ESKASONI — Eskasoni First Nation's band council election has been postponed until spring 2021, with hopes a new leadership team will be formed by April.
The election was scheduled for this fall but was pushed back because Chief Leroy Denny says a second wave of COVID-19 is looming.
“Currently Nova Scotia is managing the pandemic, but with schools starting and the flu season upon us, we cannot be certain of what is to come,” Denny said in a statement.
He said his team is still tasked with ensuring the health and safety of the Mi’kmaq community and an election during that time could get complicated.
If a second wave hits, schools could easily be shut down, Denny said, but having to suspend an election cycle that typically takes 45 days would leave the community in an awkward position, with no mandated leader to advocate on its behalf.
Denny also said the usual electoral officer is on medical leave and the emergency management office is already tasked with ensuring the safety of the community and the election would only add on to its stress. But there are plans to hold an election in the spring.
Jaime Battiste agrees. The MP for Sydney-Victoria said everyone’s focus should be on health and safety.
“The biggest concern of everyone is how do we navigate the second wave of COVID-19 while sending our kids to school,” Battiste said.
He said Mi’kmaq politics are different and there is an expectation for politicians to come inside and have food, tea or coffee and just chat. Battiste said those conversations could go on for a half an hour and range from politics to connecting about family. And with social distancing still encouraged, an election would only complicate things.
Battiste said the Indigenous caucus is discussing ways to help First Nation communities hold elections safely, but Eskasoni isn’t ready for an electronic election. The community is still plagued with Internet connectivity issues and with a 70 per cent child poverty rate, access to computers and electronics is a whole other issue.
“At some point when there is an election, and there will be, I hope it's safe throughout and it's at a point where not everyone is stressed out about sending people back to school,” Battiste said.
He said the federal government recently announced $112 million to help Indigenous communities prepare to reopen their schools and he’s glad to see Eskasoni leadership focused on that.
One Eskasoni resident wasn’t sure why they felt safe to let kids back in school but not to hold elections.
“I think it's weird with the schools opening up, but they pushed back the election,” Joseph Young said.
The 29-year-old is a housing technician in the community. He wants community leaders to know he thinks they’re doing a great job, but he had mixed emotions that the elections were moved back.
Young also said he loves his community but there were issues he hoped would be addressed in the next election. Overcrowding in houses, access to education and unemployment are things he wants to see improved.
“I’d like to see changes for the better,” he said.
Schools in Eskasoni are preparing to reopen Sept. 14.
Oscar Baker III, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cape Breton Post