Courts, Referendums, and “Steamrolling:” With Kehewin Heading to the Polls, the Current Council is Fractured

“You hear one side and then you hear one side. It’s never anybody together as a whole. That’s what people are angry about because it’s not being brought to everybody…”

Today is election day for a new council and Chief in Kehewin. However, as that’s being decided, the current council is fractured into two groups, and one side is claiming they’ve been cut of decision-making since March.

Councillors Ben Badger and Vernon Watchmaker are protesting the actions of the remaining councillors Trevor John, William John, and Chief Brenda Vanguard.

They claim that the referendum, past in August, violated custom by not having a band meeting beforehand.

“There hasn’t been a band meeting for a long time. We’ve been trying to have one – me, Vernon, and Jason [Mountain] – for a long time,” said Badger.

“So we went ahead and had our own talk, but because our colleagues weren’t acknowledging those as band meetings they didn’t come,” he said.

Since the removal of Jason Mountain from council, Badger and Watchmaker say they’re not receiving council documents, and that the majority council of three is “steamrolling” major changes to election law without proper process and consultation.

They recently filed a court injunction federally requesting a band meeting be held to remedy the situation.

Trevor John says that council did nothing wrong. They are submitting their evidence that they followed the proper procedure, and that a band meeting is not required.

“There’s nothing stated. We held informational meetings…there were meetings on the reserve and off regarding the election act, so they were asking for information there on what they want to see, what they don’t want to see. Everyone had every opportunity to have their input in there,” John said. .

What sparked a lot of this disagreement is the uncertainty of the federal government’s role in affairs on Kehewin Nation – it’s created a grey area of understanding.

As the federal government makes changes in law, like the recent decision which will now recognize some Indigenous women who lost their status due when marrying (Bill C-31), it then falls to the reserves to react.

Otherwise, someone could file a lawsuit protesting the result of an election, like what happened in Kehewin in 2014 when a voter did not receive a mail-out ballot. That’s part of what this referendum was addressing said councillor William John.

“We cannot deny the Bill C-31 people from participating in the vote on September 26 because if we do there could be a challenge and the election could be thrown out,” said William John.

Badger takes the Treaty Six position that Kehewin should act as independently as possible, otherwise they risk losing more control over their affairs.

At the belly of this disagreement, is a $7.6M settlement to the reserve almost three years ago from TOPGAS that has a thin paper trail.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here today if I knew where that money was…That’s where a lot of this started from,” Badger said.

They money is documented in Kehewin’s 2016-17 financial statements under “Revenue-other.” However, rumours within the community persist about what actually happened with the money.

These issues create a vivid backdrop of a fractured council in a community that’s last election cycle was riddled with court scorekeeping.

Badger said, “My issue is never with the election. It’s going to take us awhile to get back to our traditional system. My issue is with how decisions were made without the people’s voice included.”

These issues could continue though as each councilor is seeking re-election.

There are twenty-one total candidates for the seven person council, and Vernon Watchmaker will challenge Brenda Vanguard for Chief.

It could be the largest pool of voters in Kehewin’s history who will determine this new governing body, as the recent referendum in August dropped the voting age from 21 to 18 and allows Bill C-31 Indigenous women who lost their status in marriage to vote.

Editorial – Michael Menzies