Blood Tribe members are calling for the reform of the current electoral system after about 300 people were not allowed to vote in the municipal election at the Lethbridge polling station back in November. A separate problem happened in Calgary when the location of the vote was changed the day before the election, again preventing some Blood Tribe members from voting who had not been informed about the change.
With only 77 votes separating Chief-Elect Roy Fox from his nearest opponent, and a mere handful of votes between those who were elected and those who were not among the 88 contenders for council, advocates say the hundreds who were not allowed to vote could have swung the election a different way.
Autumn EagleSpeaker, and Elders Keith Chiefmoon and Roger Prairie Chicken spoke to The Lethbridge Herald on April 6 to voice their concerns, and make the case for electoral reform.
EagleSpeaker launched and recently lost an appeal of the election results after the Blood Tribe Elections Appeal Board denied her application for an election review.
“The whole basis of starting the appeal was the whole process in and of itself,” she said, “and how the process for all the members was violated. Their democratic right to vote was taken away from them after they had stood in line for so many hours in the brutal cold that day.”
EagleSpeaker said it was apparent from the outset that her appeal would not be impartially heard, and when she and 11 members of the tribe showed up to the hearing they were faced with a wall of lawyers all defending the interests of the Blood Tribe and the Chief Electoral Officer.
“The burden of proof was put on the appellant, which in this situation was me,” she explained. “It really felt like a David and Goliath situation where me, the band member, thought I was presenting to the Appeals Board, but was really presenting to the Appeals Board and their lawyers, chief and council, and their lawyers, and Chief Electoral Officer, and his lawyers. All of these lawyers in this process were against me. It was really hard for me to find witnesses because of the fact many of them were fearful of retribution.
“A lot of people that live on reserve, families that live on reserve, are tied to their employment through Blood Tribe administration or the other Blood Tribe entities, and one of the candidates who had wanted to write a statement in support of my appeal told me he wasn’t able to do that because his employer told him if he was going to do that, he would be losing his job. So people were hesitant to come forward and speak out against this issue, and that is kind of reflective of the larger issues on the reserve, and how it is monopolized through the chief and council system, and all aspects of life are controlled to the point where people don’t have the ability to even speak or voice their own concerns.”
Former councillor and Blood Tribe Elder Keith Chiefmoon said government accountability has been an issue for a while on the reserve, and it seems to have gotten worse in recent elections.
“They are not following the rule of law, in my opinion,” he stated. “When you are referring to democracy what’s happening to the Charter rights? What is happening to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People? Declarations that promote rights for Indigenous people. What’s happening on the reserve is they are turning a blind eye to those legislations, and they are picking and choosing whatever will suit their needs.”
Chiefmoon references the tribal bylaw which prohibits those below the age of 21 years from voting in a Blood Tribe election despite the voting age in Canada being 18 years, as an example. He would like to see reforms which bring the Blood Tribe in line with national and international norms around transparent and open democratic elections so no Blood Tribe members should ever feel disenfranchised from voting in the future.
“It shouldn’t be called an ‘appeal,’ it should be called ‘an evaluation’ that promotes accountability and transparency,” he stated. “Those that were denied the right to vote both in Calgary and Lethbridge, they were denied their inherent rights â€¦ That should have been addressed (by the appeal), and I don’t know why everybody gets really nervous when a person starts talking about this process. It should be done in a proactive way.”
Blood Tribe Elder, municipal election candidate, and former deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Roger Prairie Chicken, said there has to be a better way of voting where those who cannot vote in person can do so either in advance, by write-in ballot, or by spreading elections over several days to ensure everyone’s vote is counted going forward.
“We have to follow the rules and regulations of the Elections Act, the federal election process of Canada,” he stated.
Prairie Chicken said if there are any irregularities the tribe should be open to the idea of re-opening the election results. He points to a particular concern he has which gives him some doubts as toward fairness of process in this instance. He did not receive a notice of appeal from the Elections Appeal Board until Jan. 5 in the mailâ€” a notice of appeal which stated he had to Jan. 4 to submit a formal appeal to the board.
Prairie Chicken remembers back to 2012 when the election between two councillors was determined by a coin toss by the Chief Electoral Officer, which was also appealed at the time, but did not result in a runoff between the two candidates. The appeal board upheld the decision of the CEO to conduct the coin toss. These problems have been happening for awhile now, says Prairie Chicken, and it does not serve the people well. Reforms are desperately needed, he says.
“The whole concept for me of what this thing is all about is it about the people,” Prairie Chicken stated. “It’s about our people. It’s about the Blood Tribe people. The 80-90 per cent unemployment rate that’s on the reserve. It is about the people we are losing every month due to the fentanyl, the alcohol-related deathsâ€” it is just unreal. It’s a disaster the amount of people we are losing. And this all due to the shortage of housing issues, and itinerant social issues of people being kicked out of their houses, the economic processes. There is so much stuff. Drugs are now part of the economy. It’s a survival situation. As an Elder for the Blood Tribe, I follow the word of truth and I do not fear. I will not run (away). It’s about telling the truth to the people.”
As for her next steps, EagleSpeaker intends to seek a judicial review of the entire election process from the federal government.
“All the issues that were presented in the appeal are still standing, and so I feel very strongly that if we don’t continue to take on this battle that it is going to affect our future generations,” she said. “That this process will still be happening, and the provisions that were created to safeguard our individual citizens’ rights with the Electoral Act itself have been gutted. So the part where the citizens can remove chief and council through plebiscite or petition has been taken out of (Tribe’s) regulations. And also the part where it says the Blood Tribe has to call for a referendum to make changes, that was also removed. So knowing these important things were taken away illegally without referendum and ready agreement from all the Blood Tribe membership, I can’t sit on my butt knowing it’s okay, and without knowing it’s okay for the next four years until the next election.”