APTN National News
Halifax–The federal government took its first steps Friday toward overhauling on-reserve elections.
Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan announced in Halifax that two First Nations organizations would begin consultations across the country and lay the groundwork for the creation of opt-in federal legislation to reform reserve elections.
Duncan made the announcement along with representatives from the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs (APC) and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC).
“This reform will help First Nations create the political stability they need to establish solid business investments, practice long-term planning, and build relationships that will increase economic development for First Nations,” said Duncan, in a statement.
The existing electoral system under the Indian Act has faced widespread criticism from First Nations community members who say it is too easy to manipulate the results.
Accusations of vote buying and ballot tampering are widespread across the country. There are also widespread concerns around the appeals process, the existing two year length of terms and a lack of defined penalties for election infractions.
“Our joint initiative…is ‘paving new ground’ by making the necessary changes to the existing election system which will support the stability of leadership, long-term planning and increased accountability,” said New Brunswick Chief Candice Paul, co-chair of the congress, in the statement.
“The ultimate goal of all First Nations is to be self-sustaining and self-governing,” said Grand Chief Ron Evans, who leads the AMC.
There are currently 247 First Nations that hold Indian Act elections, 338 First Nations that use a custom or community-designed election process, and 29 First Nations that follow rules set out in their self-government agreements.
The announcement comes the same day a Conservative MP tabled a private members bill to make all chief and band council salaries public.