Ousted Fort Good Hope chief says council did not follow the rules

Fort Good Hope's Tommy Kakfwi speaks at the summer Dene National Assembly. It was shortly before this that the band council voted to remove him as chief. (Avery Zingel/CBC - image credit)
Fort Good Hope's Tommy Kakfwi speaks at the summer Dene National Assembly. It was shortly before this that the band council voted to remove him as chief. (Avery Zingel/CBC - image credit)

The band council in Fort Good Hope is meeting later this month to discuss a leadership dispute that's been ongoing for months in the Sahtu community.

In July, the band council called a meeting to remove then-chief Tommy Kakfwi a year after he was elected to lead the community. A motion to have him removed was voted on and passed. Sub-chief Lucy Jackson took his place.

Kakfwi was out of town at the time. He said he knew nothing of the push to remove him until it was over.

"This was brand new, it caught me by surprise," he said in an interview with Trailbreaker host Loren McGinnis this week. "There was no indication of resentments against me as the leader."

Kakfwi said the reason given for his removal — that he had missed three consecutive council meetings — is not valid. He said the First Nation's custom election code spells out that the chief can only be removed in four situations: if he dies, resigns, commits an indictable offence or becomes a member of another First Nation.

Kakfwi hired a lawyer who came to the same conclusions in a letter to the First Nation last month.

"By unlawfully removing Chief Kakfwi from his elected role as Chief and mayor of the community, you have not only damaged Chief Kakfwi's reputation and caused him significant personal harm and distress, you have jeopardized the legal status of the community and called into question any decisions made in his absence," wrote lawyer Sheila MacPherson.

She called on the First Nation to provide the agendas, minutes and motions of meetings in which the removal of Kakfwi was discussed, and called for the First Nation to immediately resume paying Kakfwi his chief's salary, including all amounts going back to the time his salary was cut off.

"As a chief you're not eligible for EI," said Kakfwi. "When your term is up, there are no benefits. Since they cut off my income, I've been borrowing money, not only for my legal costs, but for my living. It's taken its toll."

Kakfwi said he believes the attempt to remove him is a backlash against the hard stand he's taken against bootlegging and drug dealing in the community. Some have accused him of being the one who posted a list of names of alleged drug dealers at the local grocery store.

Kakfwi said he missed the July meeting because the senior administrative officer urged him to leave the community after Kakfwi received threats and had his truck rammed.

"For my own safety, they flew me out of town. I found out a couple of days later there was a post put up to have me removed."

So far, the band council has had little to say publicly about its decision. They responded to Kakfwi's lawyer's demand for documents with a single band council resolution reiterating that Kakfwi was removed for missing meetings.

Sub-chief Lucy Jackson said she will not talk about it until after the council meets to discuss the situation on Nov. 24.

There's no indication Kakfwi has followed through with any legal action against the First Nation. He is urging the territorial department of Municipal and Community Affairs and Indigenous Affairs Canada to step in and help settle the dispute.

"The people are waiting for us to go back to work and I'm willing to do that, to forgive and start a healthy relationship with one another and the community as a whole," said Kakfwi.