Some Fort Resolution residents are challenging the Chief of the Deninu Kųę́ First Nation’s bid to become a hamlet councillor, arguing it’s a conflict of interest. Chief Louis Balsillie said he’s being unfairly targeted.
In a letter to the hamlet election returning officer, provided to Cabin Radio with signees’ names concealed, several residents asked that Balsillie be found ineligible because of his role at the First Nation.
The letter states that if Balsillie were elected, he could be “in a position to give the band special access” to hamlet resources.
Fort Resolution is one of 10 NWT communities holding municipal elections on December 13.
“This would blur the line between the two separate governments that are meant to be controlled separately and independent of one another,” the letter alleges.
“The conflict of interest this creates cannot be ignored. Métis, hamlet and the Deninu Kųę́ need to work together to make this town a better place for its citizens. One entity cannot monopolize the hamlet’s money, staff, time, and resources.”
Balsillie, who is one of 12 people vying for a seat on Fort Resolution’s council, previously served simultaneously as mayor of the hamlet and chief of the First Nation. He said he is currently running as a citizen of Fort Resolution, not as Chief of the Deninu Kųę́ First Nation.
“We have people coming into our community and dictating to us how things should be run when we’re the local people that live here after they’re gone,” he said of his decision to run.
“We’ve been here since time immemorial and we need to work together.”
Balsillie believes the challenge to his candidacy is unfair as other people running in the election who hold positions with Indigenous governments are, he says, not being questioned.
He pointed to Patrick Simon, a councillor at the First Nation running for re-election as mayor, and Garry Bailey, president of the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, who is running for a council seat.
“I’m really floored by it,” he said of the challenge against him.
Balsillie thinks he is being singled out because he is vocal about issues in the community.
“I’m probably the most vocal person in the community,” he said. “I don’t sit back and watch things happen. I talk about it and I’m not afraid to talk about it.”
The NWT’s Local Authorities Elections Act allows voters to query the eligibility of a candidate with a hamlet’s returning officer. The local returning officer can refer the matter to the office of the chief municipal elections officer for guidance.
The act outlines eligibility requirements for candidates. Conflicts of interest such as already holding office at a First Nation are not specifically listed as disqualifying circumstances.
Cabin Radio understands the returning officer, who could not be reached for comment, is related to Balsillie. Though this, too, was cited as a concern in the residents’ letter, Balsillie said the returning officer neither lives in the same household nor benefits from being his relative.
Jay Boast, a spokesperson for the NWT’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs – which has some oversight over municipal elections – said the department is aware of concerns raised about Balsillie’s candidacy and is supporting the hamlet.
“When the department is made aware of issues, the department provides support and guidance,” Boast wrote, “which can include discussions on whether their own legal counsel may need to be consulted.”