Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Aboriginal Peoples

Issue 16 - Evidence - Morning meeting

WILLIAMS LAKE, British Columbia,
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 9:50 a.m. to study the federal government's constitutional, treaty, political and legal responsibilities to First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples and on other matters generally relating to the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada (topic: issues pertaining to Indian Act elections).

Senator Gerry St. Germain (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: Good morning, folks. On behalf of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal People's, I would like to welcome you here to Williams Lake. The purpose of our meeting today is to carry on with the committee's study of the Indian Act electoral reform. Thus far we have heard witnesses in Ottawa and Manitoba. We consider this Western tour to be a very important part of the study in that so many First Nations in British Columbia are affected by the elections provisions under the Indian Act.

Before beginning the testimony this morning, I would like to offer some background on the committee's reasons for embarking on this particular issue. The committee's decision to study the issue of the Indian Act elections is in part based on concerns raised by First Nations that holding elections every two years makes it difficult for First Nation leaders to set long-term strategic direction, as well as to plan for and implement sustainable processes before they must face another election. The frequency of elections can also create uncertainty for community members.

Having considered these concerns on April 1, 2009, the committee agreed to examine issues relating to Indian Act elections. The committee is seeking the views of affected First Nations with respect to three elements in particular: First, extension of the terms of office for chiefs and council, currently at two years under the Indian Act; second, establishment of common election dates; and third, possible removal mechanisms should terms of office be extended.

The committee began public hearings in April 2009 and travelled to Winnipeg and Dauphin, Manitoba. The second leg of the travel is taking place here in British Columbia: Kelowna, Williams Lake and Vancouver. In mid-October we plan to travel to Fredericton and Miramichi, New Brunswick, possibly.

First Nations that currently hold elections under the Indian Act or that recently converted to custom elections comprise the majority of the witnesses we have heard to date on this issue. The committee has also set aside a prescribed amount of time for open-mic sessions where community members at large can voice their concerns and provide ideas or suggestions.

Members of the committee anticipate tabling a final report by the end of 2009.

Our first witness is Theresa Hood, the Interim Band Manager for the Nuxalk First Nation.

Theresa Hood, Interim Band Manger, Nuxalk First Nation: Good morning, chairperson, senators and participants. Thank you for inviting our nation to attend this meeting on issues regarding elections held under the Indian Act. As the spokesperson for the nation, it is a privilege to be on the traditional territory of the Shuswap Nation.

I am from the Nuxalk Nation in Bella Coola, B.C., Canada. As a young child, I lived on other reserves on Vancouver Island, but came back to my community at the age of 14 and have lived here all my adult life. I have worked for our nation for the last 11 years. In the last year and a half, I have been interim band manager for our nation. In that time I have learned a lot and I continue to learn.

The Indian Act election policies were written by non-Indian people for the benefit of non-Indian people who are not accountable to the First Nations people and they have never met the needs of our First Nations people. The Indian Act is very outdated.

Our community finds that two-year elections are not long enough for our council. They feel they are just learning our organization when the term ends. It is further complicated by the high turnover within our council. We go backwards every time a new election happens. We also lose key members of our council every election, councillors who hold key portfolios.

Other negatives: Dysfunctional councils result in the loss of economic opportunities. Major differences of opinion, inability to work together or just not showing up for meetings result in delays in completing long-term goals of the community. The biggest negative is the breakdown of communication in all the areas.

Other issues: At times the newly elected chiefs do not agree on the chief voted in by the community and they resign the day after the election. This is not fair to our people. This is also not fair to the other councillors who have been voted in and have to step down. Councillors resign due to conflicts of interest. Councillors who do not show up for meetings cause the cancellation of meetings because there is no quorum to make decisions. This puts everything on hold and our community suffers for it. We come to a standstill and we cannot move forward.

Another election issue is that we have to pay an electoral officer to come in on voting day, which costs us $12,000. We also have to pay for the deputy officers, or other persons hired to scrutinize the count. The total cost is $14,000.

We have to mail ballots out to the Nuxalk Nation people before the election. Many of our people do not getting their ballots, and many do not get their mailing address to the office on time. We do not have all the addresses of the people living off reserve, because they are not familiar with the current electoral process. There is confusion over the various practices and rules. They have developed the impression that the band councils are making up the rules as they go along.

The result is an overload of phone calls from our off-reserve membership asking for ballots to be mailed out again, adding further expenses on the cost to the band. In 2003, INAC stopped funding for the elections, and this has been a huge, unnecessary expense on the band. Even if we had all the addresses for the off-reserve members, it still does not mean that everyone will vote. During our last election, 225 ballots were mailed out and only 80 returned.

The Government of Canada needs to hear our voice, that all aboriginals have the right to vote in elections on their reserves in a way they know will meet the needs of their people. We need custom elections.

In closing, I thank you for hearing my voice on behalf of the Nuxalk people on the problems with the Indian Act elections.

The Chair: Thank you, Theresa.

Is that $12,000 a justified cost? Is there that much prep work to that?

Ms. Hood: When we first started paying for the elections, we had to pay $10,000. That is how much it costs for one electoral officer.

The Chair: How much time does it take for them to set this up?

Ms. Hood: It takes about six to eight months to set up.

The Chair: They have to work that much? How much work is there?

Ms. Hood: That is just his fee for the electoral officer to come to our reserve on election day.

The Chair: He is only there one day and he gets 12 grand?

Ms. Hood: Yes, and the prep work is done by our deputy officers.

The Chair: Are they paid?

Ms. Hood: No, they are not, because they are staff, and they have to do this on top of their regular positions.

The Chair: What is the population of your band?

Ms. Hood: The total is 1,560.

The Chair: How many are on reserve?

Ms. Hood: There are 750.

Senator Campbell: How long do you think the term should be if two years is not sufficient?

Ms. Hood: I believe between four and five years.

Senator Campbell: In your view, what would a custom election look like for your nation?

Ms. Hood: A custom election would mean that we vote in a representative from each of the families within our nation, so that every family would have a say.

Senator Campbell: How many families are there?

Ms. Hood: I believe within our nation there are about 30 different last names, but everybody comes together, so, in all, there are probably 10 families all together.

Senator Campbell: Do you think that having a custom election like that would take care of some of the dysfunction?

A couple of things bother me. Democratically a council is elected and a chief is elected, but if the council does not like the chief, do they all resign?

Ms. Hood: They resign and they do not come to meetings. Our council now has been in office since March, and we have had two council meetings.

Senator Campbell: Do you think a custom election system, where the 10 families were included and each had the ability to elect somebody, would take care of the problem of councillors not recognizing the chief or not showing up for meetings?

Ms. Hood: I think it would correct some of the problems, but not all of the problems.

Senator Campbell: I do not understand. If I as chief, say, scheduled a committee meeting once a month; people would not show up and there would not be enough for a quorum?

Ms. Hood: Yes. Our quorum is seven, so we need seven councillors plus the chief to be at that table.

Senator Campbell: How many councillors do you have?

Ms. Hood: We have 12 plus one chief. I will tell you a story about what happened with the council we had previous to this one. They were so strong that they were able to clean up our organization in two years, where we were not in the negative but in the positive. They cleaned up a lot of our areas, education being one of them. That is still sitting on our table, at the council table.

Senator Campbell: What happened to that council?

Ms. Hood: The election, every two years.

Senator Campbell: But you can run again?

Ms. Hood: Yes, you can run again, but they did it on different days this year. The nomination meeting happened on a Saturday. Nobody will show up on a Saturday. The previous council did not get nominated. We had to take who was nominated, and there were only 18 people on our ballot.

Senator Campbell: I am trying to get my head around this. I agree with regard to custom elections. That should be your right as a nation, and you should be allowed to do that. I just want to make sure in my mind that if that happens, things will be better for you, that you will not have people missing council and meetings without a quorum.

How many council meetings do I have to miss before I am not a councillor any more?

Ms. Hood: In our policy it says three, but nobody ever follows our policy.

Senator Campbell: I understand the problem with the mail-out, but I do not understand how a custom election would change anything. It seems to me that it is just a lack of education, perhaps, with regard to the mail-out. When I say ``lack of education,'' there comes with that a responsibility and the realization that you have to pay. People have to understand the rules, what is going on and how it goes. How would a custom election change that mail-out process?

Ms. Hood: It would not change the mail-out process. I believe that we are just looking at people on reserve with the custom elections. Mail-in ballots are still very new to all nations. That process started just three years ago. This year will be the third time that we have had to send out ballots.

Senator Campbell: Right, and if I belong to your nation, but do not live on the reserve, I will not get to vote?

Ms. Hood: You will be able to vote.

Senator Campbell: But I would have to come to the reserve.

Ms. Hood: I am not really sure how we would do that, because we have never done a custom election and I do not want to answer on something that we have not done yet.

Senator Campbell: But there would not be a disenfranchisement?

Ms. Hood: No, we believe that everyone from our nation should be voting because their voice has to be heard too.

Senator Campbell: That is great.

The Chair: Basically what you would like to go under the custom code and go to a hereditary system of families?

Ms. Hood: Yes.

The Chair: The families would elect their hereditary leader.

Ms. Hood: Yes.

The Chair: That would be the councillor from that family.

Senator Dyck: You have done an excellent job of outlining some of the problems you have with your election processes, one being the expenses and the other kind of turmoil that occurs when there is not agreement between council members, the chief and so on.

It sounds like you want the combination of a custom code and a customary system. There would still be costs associated with that.

Ms. Hood: We are not so worried about the cost. We are looking for a longer term either way to these elections, because two years is not long enough for our councillors. It takes them one year to learn everything if they are new. Then the next year is slow and then we have another election again. There is usually a big turnover. Only three councillors from our previous council made it onto this new council, and they are all new. They have never been councillors before.

Senator Dyck: It sounds like the high turnover for one of the elections was due to the nomination process.

Ms. Hood: Yes.

Senator Dyck: Is there something that would improve the nomination process, whereby if not enough councillors arrived at a meeting but a certain number of people were in attendance you could actually proceed?

Ms. Hood: That is what I am assuming happened, but it did not. Weekends, we find in our nation, are not good because everyone who works wants to spend them with their families. The dates for the election this year fell on a weekend. The nominations were on a Saturday and our elections happened on a Saturday.

Senator Dyck: How was the election date set?

Ms. Hood: It has to be 45 days before the term is over, so ours is on March 7.

Senator Dyck: One suggestion is that there be a common election date for all First Nations. Do you think that would be a good idea, so that everybody knows from year to year?

Ms. Hood: I believe that would be ideal. That way everybody knows the date in advance.

Senator Dyck: You said that INAC stopped funding elections. Do you know on what basis or why they would have stopped funding elections and put the cost on the individual First Nation?

Ms. Hood: I am not sure. I was not in the position I am in now, but I could research it.

Senator Raine: Theresa, you are not the first person we have heard from on these issues, which is why this Senate committee is looking into them. If you do not have a good system to elect a good council, there is no doubt that you go backwards, as you said.

I was impressed to hear that the previous council made a lot of progress in their short time. It must be very disheartening for you to see the changes.

Ms. Hood: It was very disheartening. This council wants to micromanage the staff. With our previous council, they let us do our job, because we know our job inside out. Like I say, with the high turnover, they do not understand and it is very hard to work.

Senator Raine: Have you been in communication with other bands who have gone to a custom code?

Ms. Hood: Yes, we have.

Senator Raine: Have you seen some bands that have a code that you might want to use as a template?

Ms. Hood: No, we have not found one that we would use as a template, because they have the same problems that we have within our nation.

Senator Raine: In your nation, the families are really well-defined, and everybody knows which family they belong to.

Ms. Hood: Yes.

Senator Raine: So in terms of keeping track of your membership, you could add a note as to which family they belong to.

Ms. Hood: Yes.

Senator Raine: Would you envision, then, that the elections for the representatives from the families would take place on the same day, or would that be up to each family?

Ms. Hood: I believe it should happen on the same day, so everyone has the same deadline, otherwise people are going to forget.

Senator Raine: You would still have an election for council and a vote for the particular family member?

Ms. Hood: Well, no. The way I envision a custom election is that every family elects two people to be put on that ballot. When our people vote they would choose who they want from that family to represent the community and our council.

Senator Raine: There would be, in a sense, two election days, then. Instead of a nomination day, there would be a pre-election day.

Ms. Hood: No. On the ballot, they would put the two names chosen to represent each of the families, because we have 10 families within our nation. They would pick two people from, for example, the Hood family to put on that ballot, and then our community would vote for who they wanted to sit at the council table.

Senator Raine: The families would nominate two candidates. Then there would be a deadline, and it would be up to them to figure out how to do it.

Ms. Hood: Yes.

Senator Raine: It would not necessarily be a secret ballot process.

Ms. Hood: No, it would not be. What we envision is they would have a family dinner, nominate two people who would want to sit on the council and those two names would stay on the ballot for election. Then our community votes for who they believe should be on the council from that family.

Senator Raine: Again, just to be clear, only the Hood family, for instance, would vote for the Hood family nominees.

Ms. Hood: No, the whole community.

Senator Raine: The whole community. That is very interesting because then the whole community would determine which person from each family is best to serve the community.

Ms. Hood: Yes.

Senator Raine: That is a very interesting concept, and I think that has a lot of potential.

Ms. Hood: We have been thinking about this for a long time.

Senator Raine: In order to get from where you are today to the custom code, do you know the steps that are required?

Ms. Hood: We were told that a BCR was supposed to be sent in to ask for a custom election. I know it is a slow process to get to a custom election, like two or three years, but we have had our BCR in since 1993 and we still have not had our custom elections.

Senator Campbell: What is a BCR?

Ms. Hood: Band council resolution.

Senator Raine: You have sent a band council resolution to INAC?

Ms. Hood: It was sent in back in 1993.

Senator Raine: Have you heard anything?

Ms. Hood: No, we still have not heard anything about custom elections within our nation. We had 100 per cent of our people vote for custom elections, but we still fall under the Indian Act election process.

Senator Raine: That is incredible.

Senator Campbell: Well, that is INAC.

Ms. Hood: I can tell you where it is. It is in a black hole in INAC. It is lost.

The Chair: That is why we should all be working together to find out whether our First Nations want to keep the Indian Act. Their inherent rights, as far as I am concerned, should allow them to govern themselves and we should have a governance package for them. That is my view, that as long as this Indian Act exists, these people will be patronized.

Go ahead, Senator Campbell. I have had my rant.

Senator Campbell: There are a couple of things. This just came to me: INAC's rules are policies, they are not law. Regarding custom elections, we are dealing with a policy set up in 1988 called The Conversion to Community Elections System Policy. What would happen if you told tell them to just stuff it? The policy says that First Nations reverting to custom elections must have their code approved. They are the ones who are telling you what the code is. What you should do is say, ``We are going to have an election and the issue will be do we go to custom elections or do we stay under the system we are in?'' You then go forward on that vote. They are not giving you any money, and they are not giving you any support. They are doing nothing. They have ignored you and they have not answered your letters, so why play this game with them?

Ms. Hood: Exactly.

Senator Campbell: I want to quote something.

Ms. Hood: Okay, but I want to answer that question.

Senator Campbell: Go ahead.

Ms. Hood: If we do not play by INAC rules, they turn off the switch to the money, and if we do not hand in reports, they cut us off. If we do not hand in our audit, they discontinue our dollars. Our nation is not economically developed, so when they turn off that faucet, that shuts down our whole nation.

Senator Campbell: In old times that was called slavery.

Ms. Hood: Exactly.

Senator Campbell: That is what it was called.

Ms. Hood: Thank you, and that is what we are still living as.

Senator Campbell: There is an interesting comment, here, I just want to read to you, and I do not know who this person is. William B. Henderson. Here is what he had to say. He suggested that if First Nations that currently hold elections under the Indian Act desire to change their electoral processes, they could revert to the customary option, put in place, if they so desired, longer terms for chief and council. Since this approach would not require any legislative changes to the Indian Act, Mr. Henderson suggested it would be the easiest and most satisfying way to change and for First Nations to set the terms they choose.

My suggestion is that you do this, and my further suggestion is that if any taps — any taps at all — get turned off, we hear about it immediately. None of these First Nations that we have spoken to can operate with a gun to their head.

Ms. Hood: Exactly.

Senator Campbell: I do not know how we can make it strong enough. I mean I have only been a senator for four years. this has been going on for fifteen years, but we have to change it. It cannot go on. You have to be in a position to make your own mistakes.

Ms. Hood: Exactly, and that is the way we grow, by learning from our mistakes and moving forward. Like I said, I have been with our nation for 11 years. I never knew anything about our office when I first walked in, because I was never taught stuff about INAC. When I began to work there, it seemed like everybody just went to their cubby holes, so I started to read everything that went through our office. I believe that is why I am sitting in the position that I am today. I have not taken a band manager's job because I do not like this council. I just cannot. It states in the Indian Act that if you are sitting in a position that you have, it shall become your job. When the council told me that was in the Indian Act, I told them, ``Well, I do not want that job. I will sit here until you find somebody.''

Senator Campbell: I can only give you some advice in that regard: The band manager is much the same as a city manager in a municipal government, and councils come and councils go, but the manager is the one who holds the place together. The city manager does not necessarily have to like the band or the council, and I am a bit off-topic here. You are responsible for the good governance underneath that.

Ms. Hood: Exactly. I had one councillor recently try to slander me to get me fired.

Senator Campbell: Well, get used to it. That happens in all levels of government.

Ms. Hood: Well, it was funny.

Senator Campbell: I think you are very brave and I think you understand exactly what needs to be done.

Ms. Hood: Thank you.

Senator Raine: Now you are in a situation with the council you have, where for two years you have to somehow hold it all together without meetings.

Ms. Hood: Yes.

Senator Raine: Without quorums.

Ms. Hood: What makes it worse is that everything in our reserve suffers. Our housing suffers, our wellness suffers, the whole nation suffers, because you need seven councillors to sign a BCR and BCRs are not being signed like they should be to make our community run smoothly. Everything comes to a standstill.

Senator Raine: Your responsibility a little bit is to communicate to your community members why this is suffering, why that is suffering, so that they will gradually start to understand how important the role of council is.

Ms. Hood: That is why we have a newsletter that goes out every two weeks.

Senator Raine: Perhaps as part of your newsletter you could talk about the history of your request for custom elections, and in that way maybe you can be ready to go to custom election when the next council is elected.

Ms. Hood: Yes, that would be nice. Like I say, every year I have to learn something new. This year I had to learn about elections. Last year I had to learn about education, inside out.

Senator Raine: I can see that you have almost 50/50 on reserve and off reserve.

Ms. Hood: Yes.

Senator Raine: It must be a tremendous job to keep track of people who are living off reserve, because these days people move around.

Ms. Hood: It is very hard to do that.

Senator Raine: Are there any entitlements, if you like, that flow from your band to off-reserve members?

Ms. Hood: Not that I know of.

Senator Raine: There is no reason for them to keep an address on file to get a cheque, for instance?

Ms. Hood: No.

Senator Raine: If you do not have an address on file, is it then understood that it is their responsibility if they want to vote?

Ms. Hood: I am quite sure that has been told to them for the last couple elections. A week before elections, our phones are ringing off the hook, and we tell them, ``You will never get it in time.''

Senator Raine: If you go to a custom election where the families involved, do you think that the families themselves would work hard to keep their family members informed?

Ms. Hood: Yes.

Senator Raine: That would become, in a sense, then, the family responsibility.

Ms. Hood: Yes, I believe it should be the family's responsibility, that every family should be helping to look after our nation and that every family should be heard.

Senator Raine: You mentioned that you envisioned a family dinner where the family would get together and, in that evening, choose the two nominees.

Ms. Hood: Yes, I believe that should happen. I will take my family: I have an aunt and an uncle whom I have lived with all my older years and we have family dinners every month. Every birthday is a family dinner and everybody comes together, everybody talks, and usually the main topic is elections.

Senator Raine: I think you have a great vision. I commend you and encourage you to stay the course, because I am quite sure that what you are doing will bear very good fruit.

Ms. Hood: Thank you.

Senator Dyck: In referring to what Senator Campbell said, according to our information, the Joint Ministerial Advisory Committee — and I do not know whether that was in 2002 — advised that the ability of bands to establish their own leadership selection regimes, in other words hold their own elections, is likely an aboriginal right, a treaty right, or both; therefore, under the section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, it First Nations do have that right. What is your opinion on that?

Ms. Hood: I believe we should have a right to do what we need to do on our reserve so that we can move forward and that we should not be held back by the Indian Act, but it is always thrown out, ``You need to follow the Indian Act.''

Senator Dyck: Ms. Hood, you have outlined what you are doing within your First Nation very well. I commend you for the courage that you have taken, because it puts you at personal risk in terms of employment and standing up for the rights of your people. I will say to you what my vice-principal of my high school said to me years ago. He said, ``You go, girl.''

Ms. Hood: Thank you. My motto is to be straightforward with the councillors, and always tell the truth, because you never have to remember what you said.

When I talk to my councillors, I am not scared to step on toes. If it deals with our community, I tell them, ``I am not here to pick and choose who I help in our community. I am here, sitting here, as a band manager to look after 900 people who reside on our reserve.'' I will not pick and choose who I am going to help, I am going to help everybody.

Senator Campbell: I have one more question and it comes from testimony we heard yesterday. It concerns the cost of the electoral officer. I forget who gave the testimony, but what they were going to electoral officers within reach. For instance, you could find an electoral officer in Williams Lake.

Ms. Hood: Well, what we did was we put it on-line, ``We are looking for electoral officers,'' and we needed three quotes, because within our nation we always look at three quotes.

Ms. Hood: We go with whoever has the lowest quote.

Senator Campbell: But the suggestion that they had was that in the interests of community governance, that in fact the municipal councils would give them an electoral officer for the day, for the time that was needed. In fact they were getting a lot of assistance from municipalities from the point of view of setting it up, how you go about it, at very little cost. I am just throwing this out as something that perhaps you could look at, for instance, Williams Lake. Another approach might be for all of the First Nations around here to get together and look at how to go about this, how to pull this together, rather than just a one-off every time, because you are sort of at the mercy of the day.

Ms. Hood: Exactly.

Senator Campbell: Not only were they able to get the election officers at a much reduced cost, there was a sense of community building with the municipalities and with the First Nations around there. They got to know each other, they got to talk and could deal with issues that affected everybody.

Ms. Hood: I can honestly say that probably that is a downfall in our nation, because we do not get ready for elections until the very last minute, and that is a bad thing.

Senator Campbell: You have limited resources. If you had help, perhaps it would lighten the burden on those resources.

Ms. Hood: Yes.

Senator Campbell: That is just a suggestion.

The Chair: I think Larry Derrickson was the councillor from Westbank who gave us that information.

Senator Raine: My understanding is that those First Nations who run their elections under the Indian Act get financing to cover those costs from INAC, and that if you go to custom elections, there are no finances.

Ms. Hood: Yes, but we have not gone to custom elections, yet we were still cut off the funding. We had to fund the last three elections ourselves.

Senator Raine: Do you know why you were cut off the funding?

Ms. Hood: No, we were never told.

Senator Raine: I would ask our researcher to clarify this situation with INAC. My understanding is that INAC has a funding grant for running Section 74 elections.

Ms. Hood: I believe that we used to get $20,000 for each election.

The Chair: You did say they were cut off in 2003, did you not?

Ms. Hood: Yes.

Senator Raine: The $12,000 refers to when you went out for bids, that was the lowest price?

Ms. Hood: Yes.

Senator Raine: Did that person come from Toronto?

Ms. Hood: No, they came from Vancouver.

Senator Raine: It sounds like a good job. I might go for it.

Ms. Hood: I want to get paid $10,000.

The Chair: Further to what Senator Campbell said, you have got tribal councils?

Ms. Hood: Yes, we do have tribal councils.

The Chair: There is a high concentration of First Nation communities in this area. How many tribal councils are there?

Ms. Hood: Within our nation we have three that are together, that is the Kitasoo, the Oweekeno and the Nuxalk. They are together.

The Chair: That is in your tribal council.

Ms. Hood: Yes.

The Chair: There are other tribal councils, like the Northern Shuswap. Has any thought ever been given to setting up an election process with an electoral officer, somebody who is arm's length, who would run the elections in all these areas? Then you would have somebody available and you would not be held hostage to this $12,000 fee for one day. Has any thought ever been given to that approach? As Senator Campbell said, you could use the municipalities, but if that did not work, you could have your own electoral commission for First Nations of Northern Shuswap, for your tribal council, and maybe a couple of others in this area.

Ms. Hood: That would help all our nations.

The Chair: Your testimony has been enlightening. I have heard stories like yours for 15 years, and it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Ms. Hood: Actually, this is the first year I have had to learn about elections. My chief told me just yesterday that I needed to come to this meeting, so I quickly prepared this presentation. It is based on what I have seen over the 11 years that I have been with our nation.

The Chair: You have done a great job. Continue your good work. I say that knowing that a lot of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of government, on our shoulders, and if we started to work closer together, we could resolve some of these problems.

This committee has made some progress on issues like specific claims and economic development. We got legislation through that virtually mirrored the report. I am not being partisan when I say that every government has treated First Nations horrifically.

Ms. Hood: Yes. We believe that open communication is what we need.

The Chair: Thank you again, and if you have any other information that you think would help us formulate the report, given that you have had such a short time to prepare, please contact our clerk.

Ms. Hood: We have people in our organization who have done these elections. One has been in our office for 30 years. I asked her why she did not come and she said, ``Because you talk better than I do.''

The Chair: We now have before us Chief Ervin Charleyboy from the Alexis Creek First Nation.

Chief, as you know, the committee is studying the Indian Act elections process under section 74. The study basically focuses on the extension of the term of office for chiefs and councillors, which is currently two years under the Indian Act; the possibility of a common-day whereby First Nations elections take place all at once, and possible removal mechanisms should terms of office be extended.

We have been to Manitoba. We have had witnesses in Ottawa from around the country and here we are in B.C. We were in Kelowna yesterday, here today, and tomorrow and Friday we will be in Vancouver. We appreciate you taking the time to be with us.

With that, you have the floor, sir.

Ervin Charleyboy, Chief, Alexis Creek First Nation: Honourable senators, it is nice to be here. I represent the Tl'etinqox-t'in Nation, of which I am the tribal chief, and we are working on our custom election. For the longest time I have had a lot of problems with the Indian Act, just the Indian Act alone, not just the election. I have been telling the government and whoever is willing to listen that it is the most degrading piece of legislation I have ever seen; that it should be revised and something else put in its place. My biggest complaint all these years has been Indian reserves. I have been a chief since 1990 and I have been battling this issue for the longest time. It seems like I have not gotten nowhere. I do not know when the Indian Act was put together. I do not think natives have any part at all in the Indian Act. It goes against human rights.

It is degrading. Why was the Indian Act pushed upon us? Why were we shoved onto reserves? In my meetings with both levels of government, province and Canada, I have made this complaint over and over again. The province is trying to push this new relationship on us and where has it gone? Nowhere. I have seen no new relationship.

I have a big problem with the reserve elections, because they are only for two years. People have fought it in court to allow off-reserve members to run in reserve elections. I live on the reserve, and I have been their chief since 1990. I represent my people, and I have a problem with Indian affairs telling us how we should run our elections. Why is it that we cannot run our own elections according to our people's views, not the government's views, not the views of Indian Affairs?

It is frustrating dealing with Indian Affairs sometimes; actually most of the time — all of the time, I should say. It seems like everything is pushed upon us whether we like it or not, and that nothing is done by choice.

I was in court at one time, regarding the Nemiah court case, and this Canadian lawyer asked me, in the cross- examination, ``Do you consider yourself Canadian?'' I looked at him and I turned around to the judge and I said, ``Your Honour, could I say something, please?'' ``Yes, by all means do,'' he said. I told that lawyer, ``I do not consider myself Canadian, especially given the fact that we were not allowed to vote until 1960. What were we prior to 1960? When you allowed us to vote, were we sworn in as Canadians? No, we were not sworn in as Canadians, so therefore I do not consider myself a Canadian.''

Boy, that was the end of that subject. He steered me away from it. The judge had nothing to say. He could not say anything.

I am still looking for an answer. Why were not we allowed to vote at both levels of government? I mean up to 1960, we were nothing. We just stayed on reserve, we had nothing. We still have nothing. We fought for the land, our land and still we got nowhere. I know some Japanese-Canadians in 100 Mile House. During the last world war, these Japanese-Canadians were pushed off their lands and shoved into concentration camps, and not too long ago they got compensated for the lands that they lost.

As an Aboriginal person, I view these reserves as glorified concentration camps, and we are still here. I mean that goes against the laws on human rights.

Canada should be ashamed of how they treat their people, the Canadian people. I mean we are Canadian. If we vote in Canadian and British Columbian elections, we should be Canadian, yet we are still shoved on to reserves and ignored. We have to find little pots of money here and there to try to make a living on these small reservations.

These reserve elections are a joke. Our people should be able to manage our own affairs, not Indian Affairs Canada.

Like I said, I have a big problem with the Indian Act as it stands today. It is against human rights. If I had the money to fight Canada, I would go to court on the Indian Act alone, but I do not have that kind of money. Our people do not have that kind of money. We do not have the resources to fight for our land. Time and time again I have told the government, ``When we are fighting for our land, we have to go through Canadian courts. What you are doing is asking a thief to make a judgment on his own theft. Because we do not have high-paid lawyers like Canada and B.C., we cannot win. We are fighting this losing battle constantly.

Keeping us on the Indian reserve and allowing Indian Affairs to push elections on us is not right. It is against human rights. Canada is one of the countries that voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and yet at meetings with the United Nations they say how well they treat native people. That is a lie, an outright lie.

I am strongly against Indian Act elections and the Indian Act as it stands today. I wish they would leave us alone. They should leave us alone, let us hold our own elections without Indian Affairs getting involved. They keep us on the reserve with nothing. We have to scrounge around for what little we got out there. I mean native people should be able to look after their own affairs, never mind the middleman in Vancouver. How many people do they have working in the Indian Affairs office in Vancouver? I asked that question once. I do not know what they told me, but half of them do not know what they are doing.

If our money came straight to the reserve from Ottawa, we would be better off. As it stands right now, we are lucky to see 10 cents of every dollar that comes from Ottawa. It all gets spent in Vancouver at the regional office. We have to run all the way to Vancouver to do our business with Indian Affairs. That costs money. They do not pay for our travel; we have to pay from what little money we have.

Indian Affairs should leave us alone, let us handle our own elections. I feel strongly that people off reserve should not run for council. We have a big problem with that. If the people off reserve run for council, then they have to get to the reserve to attend their meetings, and we run into funding problems because of the travel. They want to get paid travel expenses.

I am not going to say any more; I might start using foul language.

The Chair: Thank you very much, chief. I cannot speak for the rest of the senators, but I agree with you with regard to the Indian Act.

I have asked the head of the AFN straight up, ``You do not like the Indian Act,'' and a lot of us at this table, myself especially, concur with that point of view, ``But what do we replace it with and what type of transition program would you have to go from where we are to get where we should be without the Indian Act,'' and I cannot get an answer.

I know that government, whether it is the NDP, the Liberals or Conservatives or another party, in all likelihood will not carry out such a mandate unless they have the leadership of the First Nations and the rank and file on-side.

If we got rid of the Indian Act, your problem with elections would be solved. You would be able to hold your elections the way you want. Has there been any discussion or any thought as to how we could do this and still have a level of accountability to the rest of Canada? I would like to hear your view on this point, chief.

Mr. Charleyboy: If we are going to get rid of the Indian Act, then the reserves we sit on would not be part of it. They have to settle that land question right off the bat, because we were pushed on the reserves from our native lands. The first thing we have to settle is the land question, because the reserves we sit on do not belong to us. That is federal government land we are sitting on. The Chilcotin is our traditional territory. We were pushed onto these reserves, like I said, not by choice, and the Indian Act was pushed on us. They got rid of everything when they pushed us onto reserves, and we were not even allowed to hold potlatches, things like that. That is why I call them glorified concentration camps.

The Chair: Until the land issue is settled, it would be hard to deal with getting rid of the Indian Act.

Mr. Charleyboy: That is right.

Senator Raine: Do you have any feelings about an interim step we can make on the way to getting rid of the Indian Act. We have heard that there are hardships with the way elections are done. You said that you have been trying for many years to go to custom elections and you have not had any luck. Could you expand on your experience so far? We know that some bands have custom elections, and the way they have set up their election process for choosing leadership seems to be more their choice. You have not had any success in moving toward custom elections. We have the impression that it should be pretty straightforward, but obviously it is not. Could you give us a little more background on that point?

Mr. Charleyboy: When you are trying to go to custom election, there are many steps you have to go through, and you have to have an election on custom elections. They give us money to say what we want in the custom election, how many year terms the chief should spend in office and how many councillors you should have. Now our band members have to vote on it. I mean, it is no different from the Indian Act election, it is just more beefed up as to how we should run offices on reserves.

Senator Raine: Can you not design your code the way you want to?

Mr. Charleyboy: We can design the code the way we want it, and then it has to be sent to Ottawa. Right now I think our proposal is sitting in Ottawa, and who knows how long before we get a decision on it.

Senator Raine: So you have sent a proposal to Ottawa on your code for custom elections.

Mr. Charleyboy: Yes.

Senator Raine: Your community has signed off on it, and it just has not gone anywhere?

Mr. Charleyboy: It has been sent to Ottawa and then they have to make a decision on it in Ottawa.

Senator Raine: Have they communicated with you as to why there is a delay?

Mr. Charleyboy: There are all kinds of excuses and we have to wait until October 14 for them to give us an answer on whether it is accepted.

Senator Raine: When did you submit your code?

Mr. Charleyboy: I do not know. It was June, I think.

Senator Raine: It was sent in June of this year?

Mr. Charleyboy: Yes.

Senator Raine: I do not think you have been waiting too long, then. We heard from someone who has been waiting since 1993. You are expecting to hear in October?

Mr. Charleyboy: By October 14.

Senator Raine: Do you think that it will help you select your leadership?

Mr. Charleyboy: It will help a great deal. Then people will have to be really dedicated if they want to become chief and council. They have to pay some money into it and it is non-refundable. To pay a fee that is non-refundable shows their dedication, that they want to run for chief or council. Otherwise, you cannot just run for chief just for the sake of running. I mean, that is how some young people are; they think it is easy. They do not know what is involved in being a chief, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. It is not easy.

Senator Raine: I am sure it is not.

Mr. Charleyboy: I have been chief since 1990 and I know what it is like. The two-year term is not enough.

Senator Raine: In your new code, then, will you go to a longer term?

Mr. Charleyboy: We are looking at four years and staggered elections for council members. Then you have some continuity, because with two years, you just get your feet wet and then you are off.

Senator Dyck: It sounds as though your elections are running relatively smoothly given that, for example, you have been chief for the last 19 years. You had mentioned that you have a non-refundable fee. Would that be something that you have added to the existing requirements?

Mr. Charleyboy: Yes, we have added that.

Senator Dyck: Would that be in your custom code as well?

Mr. Charleyboy: It would be in our custom code, yes.

Senator Dyck: What about any problems with appeals or mail-in ballots; have you been able to manage that aspect as well?

Mr. Charleyboy: Mail-in ballots are problem, and we have problems with appeals. Some people appeal for no apparent reason. They lose an election, and then they have to appeal it. I mean, if I lost an election, I would not complain. I will just congratulate the new chief.

Senator Dyck: Do you think there should be changes to the way the appeals process currently exists?

Mr. Charleyboy: The way it currently exists, yes, it should be changed. I mean, the electoral officer is there and following the right procedures. If everything is running smoothly, it should not be appealed. It is lengthy.

Senator Dyck: You were saying that you think INAC should be taken out of the business because currently a lot of the money is spent on administrative processes and bureaucracy through Indian and Northern Affairs. If the money came to you directly, it would be better utilized?

Mr. Charleyboy: From Ottawa, yes, instead of going to Vancouver. I do not know how many work in the Vancouver regional office. I mean I do not know how many storeys high that Indian Affairs building is.

Senator Campbell: The issue of not wanting people living off reserve on council, is it a monetary one or is there a philosophical difference? Do you think that you need to be living on the reserve to be an effective councillor?

Mr. Charleyboy: Yes, in order to be an effective councillor or chief, you have to be right on the reserve and you have got to know what the people want. You cannot be living in Williams Lake, Vancouver, Prince George or somewhere else and be a band councillor. You have to be right there with the people to know what they want and visit them to find out what their issues are.

Senator Campbell: How many people are in your nation?

Mr. Charleyboy: My reserve has a population of a little over 600, and roughly 250 people on the reserve.

Senator Campbell: You have about 600 in your nation and about 250 live on your reserve?

Mr. Charleyboy: On reserve, yes.

Senator Campbell: Do you have hereditary chiefs?

Mr. Charleyboy: Some reserves have a hereditary system.

Senator Campbell: But your nation does not have hereditary chiefs?

Mr. Charleyboy: Some of the reserves in our nation have a hereditary system.

Senator Campbell: How does that work with the way the election process is set up now? For instance, what would be the role of a hereditary chief versus an elected chief?

Mr. Charleyboy: I would say it is complicated. I mean, we have fun with hereditary chiefs. In order for them to work effectively together, they have to agree on certain issues. Some hereditary chiefs and elected chiefs do not see eye to eye. They end up going in all directions and it is not very effective.

Senator Campbell: If you went to a custom election, how would you come to that common ground between an elected chief and hereditary chiefs?

Mr. Charleyboy: We would work something out and put that in writing. If both parties agree to work in certain areas, then we would just have a signed agreement.

Senator Campbell: But it is your decision?

Mr. Charleyboy: It is our decision, yes.

Senator Campbell: That is what I was trying to get at. The decision on what it will look like has to be made within your community; otherwise, you are right back to where you started with Indian Affairs.

Mr. Charleyboy: The majority of the people on reserve have to vote to see if they want the hereditary system or an elected system.

Senator Campbell: If I was a member of your nation and did not live on the reserve, I would not get to vote.

Mr. Charleyboy: You would get to vote. I mean, in order to be elected to council, you have to live on reserve, but you are allowed to vote. It does not matter where you are staying. If you are a member of the band, you should be allowed to vote. I do not care where you live.

Senator Campbell: It all has to start with the land claims, and there is about $ 6 billion sitting out there in land claims. We have looked at that and they can be settled. They have to be settled before you can go anywhere.

The other more important aspect is, I believe, your intrinsic rights which are over and above what I have. You have them for a reason, because you are the first peoples. We took your land. No matter what anybody says, we took your land. There has to be some recognition of the special place that you hold within this country. Once the land claim is settled, then we have to recognize your special standing, and how do we do that? I do not know. How do we do it now, with taxation?

Mr. Charleyboy: Yes.

Senator Campbell: You have to let us know what that is. I have to tell you that my heart gets broken on this committee in so many different ways. I had it broken a while ago by a lady from, I believe, the Ahousaht First Nation. We were talking about their treaties, and she gave a speech that just brought us to tears. It was the inclusiveness, it was that people had wronged her and wronged her people and she just kept on looking for this inclusiveness. Then I get my heart broken when you come here and tell me about how you have been treated, and I feel shame for how we have treated people in succeeding generations and how we still cling to an that act. You are right; you did not have one iota, not one thing, to do with that act. I doubt that they ever asked anyone in the First Nations, and for that, I am ashamed at so many different levels.

I have to tell you that even through all that, I am amazed at the strength, willpower and the regal way you conduct yourself after 19 years, and I am sure for much longer than that. You have fought this, and I just want you to know that the strength that you show and the strength of other First Nations people who appear before us is pure inspiration to me.

I am sure that people have been saying that we have to change this for decades. Governments come, governments go. It does not matter whether you are Liberal or Conservative, as we said, but we have to change this. We have to make a difference here, because the way we do business and relate to each other is not healthy for any of us.

You put in your request in June, and if you get their response by October, phone me, because I will give them an award. If you get it by October 14, phone me, because I will be more amazed than you will be. Thank you for coming here and answering our questions.

The Chair: Chief, I am going to digress again. About three or four years ago I was asked to be apart of on a forum with the various political parties in Ottawa. There were about 300 school teachers in this forum. A young school teacher from Terrace got up — she knew I was sitting on the Aboriginal Committee — and she said, ``Senator St. Germain, I have a question to ask you, and it is based on this.'' She says, ``I teach in a public school and 20 per cent of my children are First Nations. About 80 per cent of them are being abused.'' She says, ``What can I do?''

I said, ``First of all, let me explain how we got there.'' I am a Metis from the prairies and I relate to this. I said, ``First of all, the white man came and destroyed the economy of First Nations people. They killed all the buffalo and they totally destroyed their economy. That is what their economy was based on.'' Then I said, ``They set up INAC, Indian and Northern Affairs, DIAND,'' and then I said, ``From there they put these people on reserves.'' Like you said here today, they ghettoized them. ``They tore the nations apart and put them into small communities so they could better control them through government. They gave them the worst lands that were available for these reserves.'' Then I said, ``They were not satisfied with that. They put them in residential schools. They wanted to take the Indian out of the child, and in so doing deny them the pride of culture, family.'' Then I said, ``They were not satisfied with that. They decided to put them on welfare, make them children of the state, make them grovel for every nickel that they had,'' and, as you said, never even gave them the vote until 1960.

``So we created this welfare state,'' I told her, ``No resource revenue sharing, nothing, poor education system,'' and I said, ``In the residential schools, these children were abused,'' and I said, ``If you abuse a child that is white, red, yellow, or black, he or she becomes an abuser.'' I said, ``We have degraded these people to such an extent that you now have these problems, and the problem has to be fixed here in Ottawa to a degree, to a vast degree.''

She broke down in tears. She said, ``I never really thought of it like that,'' and I said to the school teachers generally, ``If anybody in our society can make a difference, it is you people, because the only hope now is that we educate the young people as they are growing up, or we will lose another generation of Canadians, Aboriginal Canadians, First Nations Canadians.''

Many of us in Ottawa agree with what you have said here today. The problem is that it is like turning an elephant around by hand. Government has made some progress. The former government and present government worked on the apology system of residential schools, but that apology does not go far enough. As you said, we have apologized to every group, whether it be the Japanese, the Chinese, the list goes on and on, but we have only apologized to our First Nations people for the abuse we put them through in residential schools. I honestly believe it has to go further.

I thank you for coming today, answering the questions and having the patience to listen to me.

Mr. Charleyboy: I have just one other comment. You can get rid of Indian Affairs and the reserves. However, when it comes to land settlements, you are fighting a government that is in conflict of interest. The government cannot settle the land claims. They cannot say, ``Here is your land, take it back.'' You have to go through the courts and fight it through their system. That is a conflict of interest, big time. The Canadian government cannot settle the land question.

You have to have somebody from outside Canada making these decisions, because you cannot win through the Canadian courts. Like I said, you are just asking a thief to make a judgment on his own theft.

The Chair: Are there any other questions or comments?

Senator Raine: In June we reviewed the legislation that settled the Maa-nulth treaty and their land claims. It was very emotional. It showed me that it is possible, when there is a goodwill, to settle these claims. Some, no doubt, will be more difficult than others, but I just hope that progress continues to be made; it has to.

The Chair: We are making progress, but it is not fast enough to protect the present generation. A lot of good things have happened under the former government and under this government, but they are just baby steps when they should be giant steps, because we are losing a generation of people. That is what I worry about, not you and I, chief. It is not what we do while we are here, it is when we leave.

Mr. Charleyboy: This morning I was at a meeting with just forestry workers in this town. We were dealing with what they call a strategic engagement agreement. We are trying to work hand in hand with those people and get things going in the right direction, and we are getting there. We are just about to sign the agreement, but others are stalling a bit, but we are headed in the right direction.

The Chair: That is good to hear.

Senator Raine: I am just wondering, if there was no reserve and the land that currently makes up the reserve was under the control of the band or community, do you see a different system than what you have now? Right now the land is held in common by the Crown on behalf of the community. If the community held control over that land, would you still want to keep it in common or would it be possible for members of your community to have title to their own land? Some may even want to expand beyond the boundaries and purchase their own land.

I know that traditionally the land is owned in common, but there are economic opportunities for people who own their own land.

Mr. Charleyboy: There are a lot of economic opportunities if individuals can own their own land. I myself have thought about that, and if I were to own my own land, I would do something with it. I mean, I would make a living on it. It would depend on the size of the land. Each band member could do the same thing. There is a huge piece of land out there. I mean, the Chilcotin nations have a history going back to the Chilcotin war of 1864.

I have told government time and time again, ``There are only three ways you can lose your land, you either sell it, give it away or you lose it in battle. We did not do any of the three.'' We had a war against the white man in 1864 and they used trickery to capture our war chief. Five of them were hung in Quesnel, October 26, 1864, by Judge Begbie, quick trial. Five warriors, they were hung and buried up there. To this day October 26 is Klatsassin Memorial Day for our nation. He was the head war chief, Klatsassin. Before he got hung his last words were, ``We meant war, not murder.'' They were mistreated. The road crews were mistreating our people.

Then there was another threat of a small pox epidemic. Small pox just about wiped out our nation in 1862. The White man was trading diseased blankets, Hudson Bay blankets. Two thirds of our people were hit by small pox. To me that was germ warfare, trying to get rid of us.

They were trying to push a road from Bute Inlet into the interior during the gold rush. My great, great grandfather was guide and packer for Alfred Waddington. I mean my ancestors go back a long ways.

I know a lot of history through my grandfather. I wished I had a tape recorder back then, when my dad used to tell stories about the Chilcotin war and how they warred with other nations. We have a history, and we did not lose our land through war.

Senator Dyck: I am really pleased to have you here today, chief, to hear your wisdom as chief and the oral history. The comments you made about the small pox epidemic struck me. There were articles in the paper in Saskatchewan about that, and the historians say there is, from their perspective, no documented evidence. I wish that you would write these historians and tell them the oral history of what happened, because they dispute that. It goes back to what you were saying, that the history of First Nations has not been recorded in the White man's ways, and therefore a lot of our history has been lost. I think it is very important to bring that history forward, and I am glad that you did so today in your testimony before this hearing.

The Chair: I think the comments of members of the committee, the senators, reflect how appreciative we are of you being here and the way you presented the information in regard to several things about the Indian Act and the electoral process. Do you have anything else you would like to say, sir?

Mr. Charleyboy: No, that is it.

(The committee adjourned.)

Back to top