Ta’an Kwach’an citizens shouldn’t be kept in the dark

We wouldn't wish upon anybody the job of being chief of the Ta'an Kwach'an Council. The fractious First Nation comprises of five families that seem to be in perpetual battle with one another.

We wouldn’t wish upon anybody the job of being chief of the Ta’an Kwach’an Council. The fractious First Nation comprises of five families that seem to be in perpetual battle with one another, to the point that some have lately threatened to break up the organization and go their own way. Trying to lead in this climate of mutual distrust must be a truly thankless task.

Chief Kristina Kane recently tendered her resignation, citing unspecified threats to her personal safety and a vicious rumour mill at work. These concerns are believable enough and deserve sympathy. However, it’s hard to believe this is the whole story.

This means that for much of Kane’s three-year term, up until she finally obtained a pardon in late December 2014, she was actually ineligible to hold the office. What’s more, for at least four months, and perhaps much longer, Kane knew her leadership ran afoul of her First Nation’s constitution, but she did not disclose this fact to her government.This means that for half of Kane’s four-year term, up until she finally obtained a pardon in late December 2014, she was actually ineligible to hold the office. What’s more, for at least four months, and perhaps much longer, Kane knew her leadership ran afoul of her First Nation’s constitution, but she did not disclose this fact to her government.

Just in case things were not complicated enough, the same day that the judicial council handed down its decision saw Kane announce that she was rescinding her resignation and declaring herself newly eligible to serve as chief, as she had finally obtained a pardon for her past crimes. In doing so, Kane managed to make the story about her standing up to her detractors. Meanwhile, she refuses to answer many outstanding questions about her failure to properly disclose her past criminal charges.

Kane told her First Nation’s judicial council that she reckoned that she received a pardon years ago, as she had applied for one, and the theft charges never showed up on the criminal record checks she was required to file when she ran for office. Kane admits she never received confirmation a pardon had been granted, but she maintains she believed that the paperwork had been lost in the mail at a time when she often changed addresses.

Perhaps this is true. But the fact remains that the parole board told Kane in May that the theft charges still stood on her record. Rather than inform her First Nation’s government at that time, as she should have, she instead waited four months before making a disclosure in late September.

There are a few points to be made about all this. First, the First Nation’s tough rules against chief candidates having criminal convictions deserves to be re-examined. The fact that Kane made the poor decision of trying to steal some shoes and a pack of cigarettes when she was 19 should not bar her from holding office 17 years later. Lots of us do stupid things when we’re young. A simple solution would be to revise the restriction so it only applies to more serious, indictable offenses. (Kane’s charges didn’t appear on her RCMP record check because they were summary convictions.)

Yet Kane remains far from faultless. As chief, she is expected to uphold her First Nation’s constitution. Instead, she knowingly flouted it. She had an obligation as chief to disclose to her government that her leadership violated the constitution, yet she sat on this information for months before sharing it.

The fact that Kane refuses to even answer questions about her behaviour, by denying interview requests and ignoring written questions put to her, is not exactly reassuring, either. Ta’an Kwach’an citizens deserve a more open and accountable leader than the performance Kane has given to date.

In cases like this an election often helps clear the air. But Kane’s term ends not too long from now, in October 2015. And whether Kane stays or goes, many of the longstanding divisions within the First Nation, which predate this spat, will likely remain.

If the Ta’an Kwach’an Council were a married couple, its friends would be begging them to see a therapist. That’s maybe not such a bad idea. A professional mediator may have ideas about how to help the feuding parties sit in the same room and identify common concerns they’re willing to work together on. Maybe it’s time to bring one in before starting more serious talks about a divorce.

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