First Nation politics are odd


Politics in First Nations communities is a funny thing. It is not about platforms but the strongest clans.

In 2014, I expressed my dismay over the amount of band funds allocated to leadership. I thought that people living in abject poverty might share my view. I was wrong.

It was those living in poverty or otherwise unemployed who celebrated the most. As people hooted and hollered one had to wonder what they were celebrating? Welfare checks and reduced work hours?

Many are still unemployed and reduced hours remain in effect with band-funded programs.

Chiniki First Nation reported a $5.6 million deficit in June 2017. It was later announced at a public meeting that Trico Homes would lend Chiniki $500,000 bringing the total deficit to $6.1 million in August.

Most politicians would be held accountable if they were to run significant deficits. I suspect that Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP will face a tremendous backlash by voters in Alberta for the deficits the provincial government is running or is prepared to run.

This is not necessarily the case in First Nations communities.

Consider Alexander First Nation 40km northwest of Edmonton.

It was reported that between 2010 and 2016, $5.3 million in undocumented payments were made to the Alexander council and administrators. It was also reported that current Chief Kurt Burnstick was facing sexual assault charges.

Either circumstance would torpedo a politician’s aspirations.

That’s not necessarily true in First Nations communities where large families determine who will lead.

Chief Burnstick was re-elected in July and again in October. The election held in July was challenged on the basis that council violated election regulations in calling an early election. Specifically, the regulation requiring unanimous consent was breached when the Alexander council voted to have an early election in the chief’s absence.

In October, Chief Burnstick was re-elected by four votes. Marvin Yellowhorn, the chief electoral officer, administered that election and the one held in July. Yellowhorn is the chief electoral officer for Chiniki where Chief Aaron Young was re-elected by three votes.

Marvin Yellowhorn is the go to person for elections in First Nations communities. I was not able to contact him to inquire on the number of spoiled ballots and why a request for a recount was denied which in itself is another oddity.

In a vote that is that close, a recount would normally be held to validate the results and ease the minds of voters. That would be the democratic thing to do but this is politics in a First Nation community.

It is a different world. It is a world where youth aged 18 20 20 are denied the right to vote because “tribal customs” dictate that only those over 21 can vote. The right to vote is a constitutionally protected right but is it so in First Nations communities?

Thankfully, women are allowed to vote although some might think that’s not nice.


About Author

Trent Fox

Trent Fox is a member of the Stoney Nakoda Nation. Interested in Indigenous issues since high school he has travelled to Australia and Africa to learn about the Aboriginal people and the Asante of Ghana. He earned his undergraduate degree in Native Studies at Brandon University. He has worked as a program administrator for the Wesley Band Administration for ten years, returning to school in 2012. In 2014 he earned his Masters of Education degree and is now a writer, author and doctoral candidate in education at the University of Calgary.