How are Elections currently governed at Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation?
Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation election is currently governed by the Indian Act. This means that the selection of Chief and Councillors is done by following the steps in the Indian Act and the Indian Band Election Regulations. In an election held under the Indian Act, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC):
- approves the appointment of electoral officers
- trains and supports electoral officers during the election to ensure that election rules are followed
- approves the First Nation council’s choice of electoral officer or appoints the electoral officer when there is no First Nation council in place
- receives, investigates and decides on election appeals
What is a Custom Election Act?
A Custom Election Act is a leadership selection process which is sometimes called “band custom.” Where a First Nation wants to get out from the Indian Act election system and federal control over their election process, they can developed their own election act based on their unique customs, needs and concerns.
If the Custom Election Act has been passed and comes into force, Muscowpetung will not need to ask Canada to accept, or even review changes to the members’ leadership selection process. The Custom Election Act is a step toward independence and self-determination, and a step away from Canada’s supervision. It is a specific and sweeping assertion of jurisdiction and authority.
Is a Custom Election Act the same as using the new and optional First Nations Election Act or FNEA?
No. The First Nations Elections Act and First Nations Elections Regulations is federal law and came into force on April 2, 2015. The Custom Election Act is a different Act, and is designed specifically for Muscowpetung.
Will the Custom Election Act remove all aspects of the Indian Act?
No. The Custom Election Act will only remove Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation from the election provisions under the Indian Act.
What consultations have occurred with membership on the Custom Election Act?
The membership consultation process for the Custom Election Act began in August, 2021. On August 19, three separate membership meetings were held at the Muscowpetung school; one meeting for youth, one meeting for Elders, and one meeting for the general membership. At each meeting, those in attendance were asked for their feedback on a series of questions, and their responses were recorded. A video of the general membership meeting was produced, and was posted on Facebook and on Muscowpetung.com shortly after the meeting so it could be viewed any time, at Members’ convenience.
After the initial membership meeting, additional notices were posted in the Muscowpetung Mobile Application, and in public places on reserve, such as the school and at the band office. A mail-out to off-reserve members was also done. The notices outlined the key points about the Custom Election Act, and explained how members could get additional information. Chief and Council received questions directly from band members about the Custom Election Act, and those questions were answered as they were received.
Originally, the plan was to keep membership consultations open for a period of one month after the August membership meeting. However, the consultation period eventually extended into October. At the beginning of November, Chief and Council collected all the feedback received at and after the August membership meetings, and used that feedback to develop a new draft of the Custom Election Act.
At the beginning of December, a draft of the proposed Custom Election Act was finalized to be presented to the membership for ratification. Notice of the ratification vote was first announced on Facebook on December 6. The proposed Custom Election Act was posted on Muscowpetung.com on December 7, and voting also opened on December 7. Voting is taking place online and by telephone, and will remain open for one full month, ending on January 6, 2022.
To help make sure everyone has the opportunity to learn about the proposed Custom Election Act, a further membership meeting was held at the Muscowpetung school on December 13. A video of this meeting is also being produced, and will be posted on Muscowpetung.com for viewing at Members’ convenience. Additional notices in the form of Facebook posts, App posts, posters and mail-outs have gone out, or are in the process of going out.
When will mail outs providing information on the Custom Election Act be sent?
A mail-out package has been produced and will be sent to all off-reserve members. The mail-out will be sent the week of December 13, and will contain (1) a copy of the proposed Custom Election Act, (2) a copy of the Ratification Vote Poster with summary information about the Act, and (3) a Letter with voting instructions. All of these documents can also be accessed and downloaded right now from Muscowpetung.com.
Does the Custom Election Act change Canada’s fiduciary duty to Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation or impacts Treaty rights?
No. The proposed Act does not change the fiduciary nature of Canada’s relationship with Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation. The Act is intended give Muscowpetung more control over its own leadership selection process, but does not relieve Canada of its general fiduciary duty owed to Muscowpetung and its people or negatively impacts Treaty rights.
What role does the Director of Operations play in Custom Election Act?
The proposed Act gives some limited role to the Director of Operations but only in relation to administrative tasks. This is a way to ensure Chief and Council are not in a conflict of interest at certain points in the election cycle. For example, under section 20.4, the Director of Operations must approve campaigning that occurs in public places on reserve. If Chief and Council running for office were in a position to approve campaigning of all members, it would put them in a conflict of interest and result in unfairness. Having the Director of Operations handle certain election matters makes for fair and efficient elections.
Can the term of Chief and Council be extended by BCR?
Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation election is currently governed by the Indian Act which provides for a 2 year term. It would not be fair to extend the term from 2 years to 4 years without allowing the membership to vote on this significant change.
In addition, we are advised by our legal counsel that extending the term through BCR would likely be successfully challenged in Court by any voting member that disagreed with this approach.
How was feedback from the membership used with regard to the comments made on the first draft of the Custom Election Act?
Specific efforts were made in the drafting of the proposed Custom Election Act to ensure that membership was incorporated into the final law. For example, following receipt of membership feedback in August and September 2021, the distinction made in an early version of the Act between on- and off-reserve members was eliminated. Also, the election period has been streamlined to ensure the process is quick to reduce membership division. The term of Chief and Council was also extended from 3 years to 4 years at the request of the Elders at their in person consultation meeting in August 2021.
Were Elders consulted in the creation of the Custom Election Act?
Yes. The Elders were consulted in person at a meeting with Chief and Council on August 19, 2021. They provided comments on the first draft of the Custom Election Act. All Elders were invited to attend.
Can the Chief and Council arbitrarily extend their term under the Custom Election Act?
The proposed Act allows Chief and Council to extend their term in office where public safety is at risk, but only in limited circumstances. Specifically section 21 indicates a term may only be extended ” if the extension is necessary to prevent, mitigate or control the spread of disease”. This does not give Chief and Council the ability to extend their term whenever they want, for whatever reason they want. This concept has been adopted from previous federal regulations that governed elections under the Indian Act and the First Nations Elections Act, and is intended as public safety mechanism.
What limitations are placed on those members that want to run for the position of Chief or Councillor?
The proposed Act places only very limited limitations on who may run for office. Section 8.5 explains that to run for office, an individual:
- must be eligible to vote in an election (i.e. be a Member of MSN that is at least 18 years old and appears on the ISC Voters’ List);
- must not have been convicted of a serious criminal offence in the last 5 years,
- must not have been removed from office in the previous term, and
- must not be an employee of MSN or a related organization, unless the individual is un unpaid leave. These are limitations that membership members have generally supported throughout the consultation process.
Can the Custom Election Act be changed?
The Custom Election Act can be changed at the wishes of the membership. Article 23 of the Custom Election Act states how changes to the Custom Election Act in the future, should the need arise. The process starts with Chief and Council drafting a proposed amendment. This can be done in consultation with the membership. Chief and Council then shares the proposed amendment with the membership, and the amendment proceeds to a referendum vote. The Custom Election Act would require at least 40 days’ notice of the referendum, and the referendum would be run by a Chief Electoral Officer. For the proposed amendment to pass, at least 20% of Muscowpetung’s eligible voters would have to participate in the referendum, and the majority of those voters that participate must be in favour of the amendment. When all of that has happened, then Chief and Council adopt the amendment by resolution.
How and when can I vote?
The ratification vote is being held using online and telephone voting, with in-person support available. Voting started on Tuesday, December 7, 2021, and will continue until midnight on Thursday, January 6, 2022. You may vote any time during this period.
- To vote online, visit https://msn-custom-election-act.simplyvoting.com/. Use your Status Number and Date of Birth to log in and cast your vote.
- To vote by telephone, call 1-866-933-6926. Use your Status Number and Date of Birth to verify your identity and cast your vote.
- To get in-person support, visit the Muscowpetung School between 9 am and 8 pm on Tuesday, January 4, 2022, OR Wednesday, January 5, 2022. Voting kiosks and in-person support will be available to help you cast your vote.