The Mikisew Cree First Nation has set a date for its 2020 election – a few months after chief and council announced it would be postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic.
A notice posted on the First Nation’s Facebook page on Thursday says the election for chief and six councillors will be held on August 27.
“Now that we are in a very different time but still not out of the water, with a dangerous disease still in the world, we have put procedures in place for a safe election,” the post states.
According to the notice, polls will have security to ensure physical distancing, sanitization procedures, and individual packages of personal protective equipment.
The election will not include the use of mail-in ballots, which had been requested by some members.
The announcement follows months of concern from some Mikisew Cree members that chief and council were not following the First Nation’s customary election regulations.
Under those regulations, elections for chief and council are held every three years on Treaty Day. This year, they were set to take place on June 20.
On April 22, however, Chief Archie Waquan and council members said they would be extending their terms for three months and postponing the election, citing concerns for public health.
A new federal regulation allows First Nation councils to extend their terms and postpone elections for an initial six months to prevent, mitigate, or control the spread of disease, regardless of their custom regulations.
After the postponement was announced, some Mikisew Cree members held protests calling for an election and began a petition to remove chief and council from office.
Among them was Rubi Helen Shirley, one of three councillors suspended in December 2018. She said she has “mixed feelings” about the date of the election, but her and others’ efforts were not in vain.
“It would’ve been nice if we had an election earlier because people are asking and they’re crying out for change and leadership,” she said.
Suspended councillor Rubi Helen Shirley, seen in a submitted photo, was among the First Nation members who protested the election suspension.
Shirley believes an election is now being held in order to avoid legal issues.
Two First Nation members filed an application with the federal court in May for a judicial review of the decision to postpone the election. They claimed it was “unreasonable” and that chief and council didn’t consult members.
In a May 13 letter responding to concerns, Chief Waquan said the decision “was not made lightly” and was based on guidance from the federal government.
He noted an outbreak of Covid-19 in the nation’s communities could have “catastrophic results.”
Shirley said she plans to run for council in the upcoming election.
“What I am hoping, at the end of the day, is that we have a more united, stronger Mikisew membership where the leaders are transparent and have integrity, which includes all the members feeling valued and included.”
The notice for the election says polls will be held in Fort Chipewyan, Fort McMurray, High Level, and Edmonton in Alberta, and Fort Smith in the NWT.
Advance polls are set to take place on August 20.
Chief and council did not immediately return Cabin Radio’s request for comment.