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Historic Step Taken, Leads To More Representative Gov't

Ruth Ahenakew

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 1979      v09 n11-12 p18  
Sturgeon Lake is the first Indian Band in Canada to take the giant step in formalizing Indian Government on their reserve.

This action was prompted when an appeal was launched by a band member, that under section 74 of the Indian Act, a non-resident band member cannot cast a ballot nor run for the position of Councillor.

This appeal was upheld by the District office in Prince Albert, and the recently elected band council was dissolved, leaving the band with no active band government.

A band meeting was called on October 5, 1979 by Mr. W. Keyes, Acting District Manager for the Prince Albert Indian Affairs office, to explain the Indian Act Regulations for elections of Chief and Council, and to set a date for a nomination meeting.

It was at this meeting that the band members present, decided to hold a session without Indian Affairs personnel present, in order to discuss alternate ways of electing a band government that reflected their desires.

Most band members present voiced the concern that the Indian Act regulations restricted some band members from participating in the democratic processes of the band of which they are rightful members.

At that time a committee was appointed by the band members comprising of six people to get general consensus from band members whether to continue under section 74 or to set up Indian Government in conducting all aspects of Sturgeon Lake Governmental Affairs. In event that the latter was chosen, they would draw up a proposed election Act.

At a band meeting held on October 11, 1979 the band members voted by secret ballot and the majority of the Band decided to elect a new band government under the Sturgeon Lake Election Act.

Several band members expressed their concerns, Mrs. Hannah Kingfisher pointed out that as an elder she has seen many leaders on this reserve. Problems started when the Indian Act Election regulations were brought on this reserve. It has taken away band council authority, even band members were kicked off their own reserve. We have our own authorities too under Indian government, it will make us strong as a nation. We can work together to preserve ourselves as a nation and to preserve our treaties under Indian Government. Elder Patrick Ermine also spoke to the assembly. He said, "long ago before the coming of the white man, we had a creature called Indian Government. All was Indian Territory and all was Indian Government. Indian Government left such things as Treaty Rights and the White Man gave us medals to show the treaties were made by two nations. White Man did not give our land, we kept it for ourselves. The Indian Act is breaking our Treaty Rights. We know what the Federal Government is trying to do to us. We must look to Indian Government and get them to work for us again."....Indian Government is alive....."

At this meeting the people of Sturgeon Lake did a first in Indian Government history to establish their own Election Act with rules and regulations to meet their needs and desires not that of some civil servant in Ottawa.

They ruled that any band member age nineteen could cast a ballot and run for a position on the band government.

A tribunal was set up consisting of three people, they would be the sole authority on appeals and the election regulations. They would sit and decide whether an appeal would be justified. It was decided that no person could appeal the whole election but only that of one position. This would ensure that the band would not be without an active governing body. They also appointed two band members to oversee the election, Chief Electorial Officer, Allan Daniels and his Deputy Leon Ermine. At this time a date was chosen for the Nominating meeting on October 23 and the election date was to be October 30, 1979.

It was at this point that the District office declared the election illegal and invalid that they would not recognize the new band government. They threatened to establish economic sanctions on Sturgeon Lake Band if they did not comply to the wishes of the Department. The people of Sturgeon Lake decided to go on with their own ideas and furthermore to implement them.

The Regional office overruled this action and decided to recognize this election legal under directives from Ottawa.

The people of Sturgeon Lake chose John Charles as their first Chief under Indian Government. Band Councillors elected were: Earl Ermine, Andrew Naytowhow, Wesley Daniels, Arnold Naytowhow; Robert Ermine, Harold Roberts, Henry Felix, Alex Ermine and Noel Turner.

Immediately following the elections the new Chief and Council met with the Regional Director for Saskatchewan, Dr. Owen Anderson and Chief Solomon Sanderson to state their position that they were the legal government of Sturgeon Lake Band.

They subsequently traveled to Ottawa to meet with Indian Affairs to formalize the relationship between the Indian Government of Sturgeon Lake and the Canadian Government.

Representing the Band Government of Sturgeon Lake were Chief John Charles, Councillors: Henry Felix, Harold Roberts, Arnold Naytowhow, Wesley Daniels and Andrew Naytowhow. They met with Rod Brown who is Director of Operations for Indian Affairs in Ottawa. The Canadian Government Election Act is legal and binding between the Sturgeon Lake Band Government and the Canadian Government on November 6, 1979.

It has taken initiative and courage for one Indian Band in Canada to take the first step in the direction of self determination and destiny. But it must be realized that the guidelines and policies of the Canadian government are still very alive in that they will impose local government and municipilize these very governments they are recognizing. There's are still the guidelines stated in the 69 White Paper policy and that is to do away with our treaties and our special status as Indian people of Canada.