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This article was published 19/4/2009 (4611 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- Federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl has withdrawn his government's support for a Manitoba-led plan to standardize elections for First Nations.
Last week, a spokesman for Strahl said the minister will work with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to implement the changes, which include holding elections for chief and council on reserves in Manitoba on the same day on a four-year cycle, and introducing a First Nations electoral officer to oversee them.
But a letter sent by Strahl to Manitoba chiefs in March suggests otherwise because the plans under way by the AMC would introduce the new election system without requiring federal legislation.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the AMC had been working together on the project through a joint technical working group and Strahl said in his letter he would have been prepared to continue that partnership if the AMC chiefs had agreed to proceed with legislation.
The resolution passed at an assembly of the chiefs in January has no plans to incorporate federal legislation in the changes.
"Given the outcome of the Chiefs-in-Assembly, I do not see a role for the Department to play in the current initiative beyond the conclusion of the current phase on March 31, 2009," Strahl wrote.
The letter, believed to be sent to most chiefs in Manitoba, also appears to be seeking input from chiefs who don't support the AMC election reforms, potentially to help INAC convince the AMC to change its mind.
But Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Ron Evans said if it is going to work, a First Nations standardized election process has to come from the people in the communities, not a top down, federal government legislated approach.
"A swift law would be faster, cheaper, and more decisive," said Evans. "But it isn't democratic. For that, you need the people."
The dispute is likely to be a precursor to many more like it as Strahl is in the midst of a major process of overhauling First Nations governance with a view to amending or eliminating the Indian Act.
Evans said the AMC plans to proceed with its electoral reforms with or without INAC's support. The chiefs will return to the table with feedback from their communities about the reforms at a meeting next fall.
After that it is hoped the reserves which want to participate will hold referendums to get approval from their community members.
At first, it's expected only the 37 bands which hold elections under the Indian Act rules will be interested. The act requires elections be held every two years and that each reserve elect one chief and at least one councillor for every 100 residents. .