Candidates disqualified from the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation's election in Wrigley, Northwest Territories, described confusion and shame on seeing the results announced.
The election was originally set for November 16. However, when nominations closed on Thursday, results showed more than half of the candidates had been disqualified and all others acclaimed.
Lloyd Moses became the First Nation's new chief, the results stated, as his only rival – Maurice Moses, the incumbent – was among those disqualified.
Only four of six councillor roles were filled.
“There should have been an election,” Maurice Moses told Cabin Radio, expressing dissatisfaction at the process of disqualification and acclamation. “It’s good to see an elected chief from the community.”
Interim band manager Sharon Pellissey, explaining the disqualifications, said people who owe $500 or more to the First Nation office are barred from running for office.
Pellissey said the First Nation holds elections according to its own custom election code. That, she said, “basically means the membership decide how they want to run their own elections.”
Pehdzeh Ki's elections are run according to a framework devised in 1999 that can then be amended by public vote for each election.
Pellissey said the current election code had been available for examination in the band office for three years.
Referring to candidates disqualified for owing money to the First Nation, she said: "They should know what they owed to the organization. In the new election code, these types of things are specified.
"I feel for the people that are ineligible."
Electoral officer Kelly Lafferty could not be reached on Friday to confirm that money owing was behind each of the disqualifications. In all, seven of the 12 candidates for chief and council were ruled out.
Disqualifications like that are not uncommon, Pellissey said.
Maurice Moses, however, said the outcome was not fair and he had not been informed he owed money to the office.
“They say I owe money, but how can I owe money? I worked right to the end of my term, and I don’t know how they say I owe money,” said the outgoing chief.
He believes the First Nation in fact owes him money for unused annual leave.
Maurice expressed concern at the concept of an acclaimed or appointed chief and council as opposed to elected representatives.
“When you’re appointed, you don’t have that authority. That’s why you have an elected chief, so you have the authority to speak on behalf of the whole community,” he told Cabin Radio.
As reported by the CBC, Maurice faced his own issues in office. Those included an attempt to remove him from his position and the resignation of several councillors under his leadership.
Maurice, meanwhile, alleged electoral officer Lafferty did not meet typical criteria for the position.
He said the electoral officer is ordinarily from another community, and someone from Hay River had been lined up to fill the role before COVID-19 hit.
“They couldn’t come here to help us do our election the proper way,” he said.
Rose Moses, Pehdzeh Ki's former wellness coordinator and interim senior administrative officer, said she had been working to find someone from outside the community to run the election. Nobody was interested in the role, she said.
Rose herself was one of the disqualified candidates, having decided to put her name forward for councillor.
Both Maurice and Rose questioned electoral officer Lafferty’s relationship to the newly acclaimed Chief Lloyd Moses. They each identified Lafferty as the partner of Lloyd's daughter, though this could not be immediately confirmed as neither Lloyd nor Lafferty could be reached.
“It kind-of makes it look like it was all set up,” Maurice said.
Rose said she had been removed as the First Nation's interim senior administrator at a public meeting earlier in October, and had hoped to become a councillor in part to preserve projects she had been working on.
Asked if she was aware of any debt to the First Nation, Rose said she had "an advance" with the band but added she believed the band also owed her money.
Moving forward, both Maurice and Rose said they felt an election should happen, rather than relying on acclamations and appointments to fill any remaining vacancies.
“We the people, the public, should be voting. Whether you owe or what you do, it shouldn’t matter. We should be able to say who our leader should be,” Rose said.
“It’s just so disappointing. I’m so ashamed of the organization, I’m ashamed of how they’re doing things.”
Maurice said he would spend time trying to get more information and “making some calls.”
Pellissey said the two empty seats on council could be filled by appointments or a separate election. She said any appeals would have to be addressed to Lafferty.
“We have a new chief, new council … that makes them a quorum,” Pellissey said.
“It’s our duty to put them in the organization as new leadership.”
Sarah Sibley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio