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Kehewin to hold September re-election

A re-election has been called at Kehewin Cree Nation after a Canadian judge determined a March 2014 vote that saw seven reserve members elected to council was not carried out in a lawful manner.
Kehewin Cree Nation will be having a re-election on Sept. 1 after a judge determined their past election was not carried out in a lawful manner.
Kehewin Cree Nation will have clean drinking water after years of living on a water boil advisory.

A re-election has been called at Kehewin Cree Nation after a Canadian judge determined a March 2014 vote that saw seven reserve members elected to council was not carried out in a lawful manner.

The election, which saw four councillors re-elected and three new members voted in, was thrown out in a federal court hearing on May 12 after a judge found the local First Nation reserve had violated a section of the Indian Act in not providing off-reserve members the opportunity to cast their ballot in the vote.

Having spent her entire life as a member of Kehewin, Tina Dion was disappointed to find she had not been included in last year's voting process to determine a new chief and council. Currently living in British Columbia, Dion decided to launch an appeal against the election, claiming dozens of off-reserve members had had their constitutional right to vote in the poll denied.

“The law is pretty settled that all off-reserve members should have received a mail-in ballot for the election in March of 2014,” Dion said. “For whatever reason, that ballot never arrived.”

Taking the issue straight into the judicial system wasn't Dion's preferred route. She first made contact with Kehewin's election officer Gordon Alger to lodge an appeal; something she says did not go over too well.

“Alger responded to my appeal and essentially told me the case file I'm referring to (off-reserve voting) doesn't apply to Kehewin because Kehewin is a custom-code band,” Dion said. “I knew right away that wasn't right. They have to abide by the charter, just like every other community has to abide by the charter, and provide me my democratic right to vote. They failed to do that, so that's where this issue started.”

And so, Dion took the appeal to court. Following a short hearing, the judge sided with the lifelong Kehewin member.

“Obviously the big issue is that Kehewin was not providing off-reserve members the opportunity to vote, but a secondary issue… Perhaps a larger issue is the fact they were not really allowing off-reserve members to run for office or be nominated for office,” Dion said. “The judge agreed those two elements were unlawful and told both parties to go away and settle the matter.”

That settlement arrived when Kehewin agreed to hold a re-election on September 1, with a secondary vote to decide a new chief to take place September 22. As well as providing ballots for all off-reserve members to cast a vote, Kehewin will also be holding an advanced poll for the first time ever, with a voting station being set up in Edmonton on August 25.

After spending the better part of the last year fighting for her constitutional right to vote, Dion was understandably delighted with the outcome of the hearing.

“It's very pleasing to have been able to follow this through and get the result we did,” Dion said. “Kehewin's view, at least in the court papers, was that off-reserve members don't have as much of an interest in nation affairs as on-reserve members do, and that's absolutely not the case.”

She added, “Kehewin is my community just as much as any other member. I still have family members there; I know lots of people that live there… It's not like I'm a stranger. This decision is a big victory for those of us that no longer live on the reserve.”

The re-election wasn't the only thing to come from the appeal as Dion claims Kehewin has also been ordered to update its aging election code.

“Kehewin really has to bring its governance standards way up, because as they stand right now they are too low in the face of the law and too low in the face of community standards across the country when it comes to First Nation elections,” Dion said.

“Now, within two years of the new election, Kehewin will be bringing forward a new election code because their current one is very, very outdated. It's not compliant with the legal standards that are applied today. The judge said they have two years to amend that code and bring it forward for ratification, which I think is another good thing to stem from the appeal.”

While she is pleased with the outcome of the appeal, Dion claims there is still some work to be done to improve communication between Kehewin council and Kehewin members.

“Kehewin has a big issue right now in that it doesn't inform community members about what's going on. It has come to my attention via other reserve members that Kehewin will be having a referendum on July 21 to determine whether or not it should accept a $7 million settlement from the federal government as a result of (exploitation) of gas payments from the 70's and 80's,” Dion said. “Now, I don't take issue whatsoever with the settlement and voting yes for it, I just don't believe it should be done right now.”

As an off-reserve member, Dion says she's received no information about the referendum and stated her belief that the new rules Kehewin will have to abide to for elections should carry over to important decisions, such as the upcoming referendum. Because of that, she has moved to file an injunction on the referendum.

“I haven't had any information about this referendum at all. I should have received something in the mail to let me know about the issue and the upcoming vote on July 21, that way I could make an informed decision. But this isn't just about me, there are lots of off-reserve members that have a right to know what is going on. At the end of the day, Kehewin's resources are our communal resources. We should be able to participate in decisions, that's why I've (placed) an injunction (on the referendum),” Dion said.

She added, “I feel it's imperative we wait until there is a duly elected council in place for any important decisions to be made. The current council should not be fronting or making decisions on anything right now.”

There is a hearing at the Court of Queen's Bench in Edmonton this Friday ahead of the referendum next Tuesday.

Kehewin Chief Eric Gadwa last week refused to comment on the re-election or the referendum, while all efforts to reach the rest of Kehewin council were ultimately unsuccessful.

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