Mikisew Cree First Nation members launch petition to remove chief and council

Concerned members of the Mikisew Cree First Nation have launched a petition to remove their chief and council, citing a lack of consultation with the use of funds from an upcoming treaty settlement.

On Oct. 15, Mikisew Cree members will vote on a $136-million federal government settlement. The settlement is under Treaty 8, which was originally ratified to give agricultural benefits to First Nations that wanted to take up farming. At least 21 First Nations, including the Mikisew Cree, have made claims under the treaty. Advanced polls for the vote are already taking place.

"Of my understanding, they [the signatories of the petition] believe that they have not been properly consulted by the leadership or their best interests have not been reflected and they're not being heard for what their concerns are," says Trista Simpson, a Mikisew Cree member.

According to member Roy Vermillion, many members don't have an issue with the settlement itself, but rather with the Whachask Trust, which was designed with the Royal Trust Corporation of Canada to manage the money awarded to the Mikisew Cree.

The Whachask Trust has been presented as a special agreement "to ensure that present and future generations of Mikisew members will benefit from the settlement of the claim."

It is described as providing "a reliable source of income," and could be used "for various community purposes such as capital improvements and infrastructure, education and training, housing, economic development."

Vermillion said he looked at the trust agreement and believes "there's potential for the trust to go broke in 25 years." He said members have been "put into a corner" and are unable to reject the trust without rejecting the settlement.

He believes the trust "was unilaterally developed by the chief and council along with their lawyers," and pointed to an "extreme lack of meaningful and adequate consultation" as reasons for his frustrations with the current leadership.

Vermillion also said he feels "very lied to." 

"I don't feel that chief and council has looked after all the Mikisew Cree First Nation members interests," he said. "It's all a big lie." 

Members allege scare tactics

Few members of the Mikisew Cree are willing to talk publicly, and Vermillion said scare tactics are taking place.

"Some of the leaders are going to people saying if you don't vote yes, we might not have an agricultural benefit agreement in the next 10 years or more and it's gonna cost a lot of legal costs," he said.

On Oct. 2, a meeting was organized in Yellowknife for Mikisew Cree members. Eleven showed up, and seven signed the petition, according to member James Jenka.

The meeting was meant to discuss the information package members received on the settlement, but Jenka said there is too much confusion and too many unanswered questions, just days before the vote on the settlement. 

"I feel I am being rushed to vote," he said. "It needs to slow down a little bit." 

A spokesperson from Indigenous and Northern Affairs said no settlement can be finalized without the vote and approval of First Nation members.

"If a negative vote is reached, the parties would need to review the results and meet to discuss the implications," the spokesperson said in an email.

"If a favourable vote is reached, the settlement agreement must also be approved by Canada before it can be finalized and the compensation paid to the First Nation."

The petition requires 100 signatures in order to trigger a special meeting of the membership. CBC made several attempts to interview the chief and councillors of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, but was unsuccessful.