Part of the fissured Penticton Indian Band community has gone to the polls to fill council vacancies Wednesday, while another portion of the community abstained and protested the vote.
The band is voting on five council seats that have been open after resignations between the spring and August this year. But along with the two latest council resignations, from Timothy Lezard and former chief Jonathan Kruger, came public exposure to deep divisions in the community.
One contingent in the community, those typically seen as allied with Kruger, brought their discontent to front of stage Wednesday, outside the community’s polling station set up at the band hall.
“I don’t agree with this election. It’s being done all wrong,” said former electoral officer Valerie Baptiste. “There isn’t even a deputy electoral officer; there’s only one person in there and we’ve never had an election like that.”
Baptiste, who has been the electoral officer for 34 years, added the band hasn’t ever seen a silent nomination during her tenure in the spot, a tradition broken at an emotional nomination meeting last month.
“And we couldn’t even hear the names of the band members who they were reading off the list. That in itself is wrong, because everyone is supposed to hear the names and say yea or nay,” Baptiste said.
Pierre Kruger, too, decried what he saw as an “illegal” vote to replace council seats, taking aim particularly at an argument that the current chief and council, down to four members, do not hold quorum according to PIB law.
— Dustin Godfrey (@dustinrgodfrey) November 22, 2017
“We don’t have a legal government. What happens in this country when they’re in a minority government and stuff? They have somebody doing something wrong, one of their leaders, they resign,” he said.
“They have a re-election, they have byelections. They have a proper government, and to me a collapse of government is a collapse of government.”
Band administration tackled that notion directly in a fiery Sept. 22 news release, publishing email exchanges with lawyers providing legal advice to the band. In those emails, a lawyer noted the five councillors and one chief requirement does not mandate that those members hold their position all at the same time.
That same week, the band filed a lawsuit against six former councillors, including current and resigned councillors and two councillors voted out of council in last year’s election.
Pierre said he doesn’t believe any decision made by the band since the August council resignations are valid, without quorum in chief and council.
“If anybody takes us to court because of these four making a bad decision, the community shouldn’t bear the burden of their decisions,” he said.
Baptiste agreed, pointing to a notice apparently distributed by the band in early July, notifying the membership of a vote to keep Baptiste and deputy electoral officer Karen Gabriel, in their positions until the 2020 election.
She took issue with the band’s later decision to go outside of the band for a temporary electoral officer to oversee this year’s byelection, which the band said at the time was to avoid any conflicts of interest or “perception of bias.”
Neither of Pierre nor Baptiste were planning on voting, and both also abstained from the nomination process last month.
Pierre said he has hardly heard word from the band since the election last fall, but community member Laurie Wilson, who said she would be voting, pushed back against that, noting the band is restructuring its governance.
“This is a pretty important part of the dismantling of colonization. Change is so very difficult; it’s a part of change that we haven’t had the freedom or I guess the room to do for a long time,” Wilson said.
“This kind of bullying behaviour really has no place in a communal community, and it certainly doesn’t come from us. It really is the impact of the Indian Act system, and I think it’s changing. I think it has to change.”
Wilson said she doesn’t fully expect to see fissures in the community disappear after this vote, especially when much of the population doesn’t see it as a legitimate vote.
“I think the work can start. I think that there’s, like I said, I think there’s enough people with enough passion and enough want for change. I think the system, once the fighting kind of stops, I think the system being implemented is our system, our traditional system,” she said.
“Our traditional systems have exactly the answers that they’re looking for, in that there’s inclusiveness, there’s communication and there’s our traditional decision-making is not one of dictatorship, and we have processes for decision-making.”
Band members are voting on eight candidates for five positions, with the vote set to close Wednesday evening.
Results are expected to be announced Thursday morning.