The Liard First Nation (LFN) is on track to have its regularly scheduled election in mid-December after 80 citizens took it upon themselves to create an election committee during a special meeting Tuesday.
LFN’s electoral rules require an election committee be set up to oversee the vote.
But after Chief Daniel Morris and the only two remaining sitting councillors missed a deadline to call a special meeting to establish the committee, members decided to do it themselves.
“It was almost like an act of protest,” said George Morgan, who helped organize the meeting. “But the members were well within their rights.”
Morgan is a spokesperson for the group Kaska Concerned about Land Protection and Good Government. He said 80 people is far more than the quorum of 55 required for LFN general assemblies.
There are about 300 LFN members, according to 2011 statistics from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).
The group formed after Morris signed a controversial resource agreement deal with the Yukon government in January.
Morgan is also the former executive director of the First Nation, and lost the 2013 LFN election to Morris by a few votes.
Back in July when he was raising concerns about Morris missing the deadline to call a special meeting, Morgan made it clear he would be candidate for chief.
Morgan said Tuesday’s meeting followed Liard electoral rules and that the group sought a legal opinion before going ahead.
The meeting was a “huge” show of support, he said. “It’s more support than Daniel has had for any meeting he’s thrown.”
Normally it would be up to the chief and councillors to call such a meeting, he said.
“Our election law is silent on who calls the special meeting,” he said. “(But) we forget that the real authority is the people.”
There were a handful of Morris supporters at the meeting, Morgan said. One asked why the chief wasn’t present.
“We sent him a letter inviting him,” Morgan said. “We were told he went hunting.”
If the election’s validity is challenged, Morgan said, his group is ready to seek a court order.
“It would be hard to imagine that any judge in Canada would deny us the relief we seek.”
The meeting, chaired by a well-known elder Neil Sterritt, took place without any conflict, Morgan said.
The Liard First Nation has been in a state of turmoil since since late 2014 when the federal government placed the First Nation under third-party management.
At the time, INAC said the move was a last resort to ensure the delivery of core services to LFN citizens.
Vancouver-based Ganhada Management Group has since been in charge of delivering services from pension plans to social assistance.
INAC has refused to provide any information about how much money the First Nation still owes to the federal government. As of late 2014, it was over $400,000.
There’s also the question of unpaid taxes, about $1 million, the First Nation owes to the Canada Revenue Agency. The CRA declined to confirm whether LFN’s bank account had been seized.
Morgan said he had to pay out of pocket to organize the meeting, mainly for advertising. He hopes he’ll be eventually reimbursed.
Ganhada is administering the governance funding for the First Nation and indicated it was willing to pay for the cost of the election, he said.
Now that the election committee is set up, they’ll have to hire an election officer.
They have about one month to do so, Morgan said, if the election is to go ahead mid-December.
Morris could not be reached by press time early Wednesday. He hasn’t replied to any requests for comment since he launched a legal action against INAC and Ganhada in May, claiming they withheld money earmarked for the First Nation.
Contact Pierre Chauvin at firstname.lastname@example.org