Long-time Montreal Lake Chief Ed Henderson is calling for voters to head back to the polls after a controversial by-election in November.
Henderson was re-elected in March, but a successful appeal by former band council member Frank Roberts, who was originally disqualified from running, left the door open for a second election, which was to be held on Nov. 27.
Chief Electoral Officer Clifford Bird later declared Roberts chief by acclamation since he was the only candidate to file a declaration of intent to run.
On Friday, Henderson released a statement questioning that decision, and announcing another general election in January. He said Bird erred in calling for a by-election without a mandate or a clear decision by the appeals tribunal.
“This run-away process, resulting in Frank Roberts having the audacity to declare himself ‘Chief by Acclamation’ without a single ballot being cast, is a slap in the face of every band member of Montreal Lake Cree Nation,” read Henderson’s statement.
Henderson maintained that he had not resigned from his role, but was willing to take part in a third and final election for all chief and council positions. He said a new election would clear any misgivings and help avoid a lengthy legal battle.
It would also allow for the community to function. On November 22, a message on the Montreal Lake Cree Nation Facebook page said that payroll would be delayed “due to the recent election issue, which is now before the courts.” The post has not been updated since then.
“(A court case) my end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and lasting months that would leave the band without effective governance. As a First Nation, we need to affirm our right to self-determination and promote good governance by seeking resolution of our own internal issues, rather than have them decided by the Federal Court.”
Henderson was not available for an interview by press time, however a statement released by the First Nation said Henderson was still recognized as chief by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). The statement also accused three other councillors of supporting Roberts to “serve their own interests.”
When contacted by the Daily Herald for comment, Roberts said he did not support a second election, and vowed to fight against it.
“That’s just an attempt from people who are not happy with the by-election process,” he said. “They’re just attempting to create chaos out there with our band members. We’ll be straightening that out shortly.”
Roberts declined to comment further, but added that he was meeting with a lawyer and would have more to say in the coming days.
According to a press release issued by Montreal Lake Cree Nation band manager Mark D’Amato, Henderson hoped to get council members to sign a Band Council Resolution (BCR) that would have seen a Quorum of Council represent the community in all matters until the controversy is solved.
The BCR would also prohibit Henderson and Roberts from holding public meetings on Reserve to promote their political issues. Neither would receive pay until the issue was resolved.
The release said three councillors voted in favour of the resolution, while three opposed and one abstained. The press release also adds that two other unsuccessful attempts were made.
If the vote actually occurs, voters will head back to the polls on Jan. 30, with advanced polls closing on Jan. 26. Declarations of Intent are due on Jan. 4 by 4 p.m.