Dawson City is not the only Yukon community that has been waiting a long time for an election.
For the Ta’an Kwach’an First Nation it’s been almost a year since the band’s first election as a self-governing First Nation was declared void.
Since then, the Ta’an have been embroiled in a precedent-setting legal battle.
And there’s no end in sight, according to Ta’an Kwach’an member and former chair of the band’s board, Bonnie Harpe.
“Over the course of two years, we have not had an answer from our current leadership about when an election is going to take place,” she said in a recent interview.
“Our people are wondering what’s going on? Why haven’t we had an election?”
The ongoing dispute began in April 2004 — election day.
It was a close race that saw Ruth Massie, current acting chief, beat Harpe by just two votes.
However, a few months later everything started to unravel.
The third candidate, then-deputy chief, Sam Broeren, admitted he had a criminal record, which prohibited him from running.
“Citizens are not eligible to be … deputy chief if they have been convicted of an indictable offence or the offence of theft, fraud or false pretences,” reads the Ta’an constitution.
So, Harpe took the election results to the band’s judicial council. It ruled in her favour.
Massie won by such a thin margin, two votes, that Harpe could have won if Broeren hadn’t run, said the council.
The Ta’an were left without an elected chief or deputy chief.
The elders’ council then named Massie interim chief until an election could be held.
The deputy chief’s seat has remained empty since Broeren resigned in 2004.
No specific timeline is set out in the band’s constitution, but it reads, “upon resignation or removal of the chief or deputy chief, a by-election shall be held forthwith.”
No election was called and the legal battle began.
Harpe filed a suit in the late spring of 2005 in Yukon Supreme Court questioning if Massie was nominated interim chief by a legitimate process.
Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale ruled that Massie was legitimately interim chief.
The elders’ council acted in a time of crisis, he wrote.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, “a ‘time of crisis,’ is ‘a moment in time,’” said Harpe.
“I would like to know how ‘a moment in time’ has turned into months. They acted in a time of crisis; they appointed her acting chief. I want to know if that appointment’s for life.”
An election should be held as soon as possible, noted Veale in his judgment.
“The Ta’an Kwach’an Council has not had an elected chief or deputy chief for many months,” wrote Veale.
“The election for chief and deputy chief must proceed as soon as possible.”
That was in February.
There’s still no news of an election, said Harpe.
Harpe has appealed Veale’s decision to the Yukon Court of Appeal and should know by summer if the court will hear her case.
Not knowing when an election is going to be called breeds instability, said Harpe.
“(We live in) uncertainty — not knowing what direction our government is heading, where we are in land claims issues, and financial accountability,” she said.
Massie could not be reached for comment.