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Some candidates now allowed to run in Fort Liard
Band juggling non-ratified code and Indian Act rules as May 15 election approaches

April Hudson
Northern News Services
Monday, May 8, 2017

Three candidates running in the Acho Dene Koe First Nation election have been re-instated after initial disqualification.

When the band released an initial list of candidates running for the positions of chief and council, Cathy Kotchea, Steve Kotchea and Peter Bertrand were all disqualified.

There are numerous reasons nominees can be disqualified from running. Some examples are if they have a recent criminal record or owe money to Acho Dene Koe First Nation.

Heather Coakwell, a returning officer who was brought in by the band for the purposes of helping with the election, said the change was made after consultation with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs and federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

"We were using guidelines as best we could, but there was conflicting information on different members," she said.

"Now I've dotted all my i's and crossed all my t's here today to make sure everything is right."

One reason for conflicting information was that an election code drawn up by the band in 2008 had never been ratified, calling into question whether it could be used or whether the band should rely on rules set out in the Indian Act.

"They tried to bring in an election code in 2008, but at the time there wasn't enough community interest ... so basically what happened was it just kind of fell to the wayside," she said.

That means the band doesn't technically have an election code of its own in place.

Coakwell said that also affected who could vote in the election. While the 2008 election code states only people who live in Fort Liard can vote, the Indian Act states all band members can vote.

"When I was brought in, it was basically to help figure these things out," she said.

The band followed the Indian Act for that decision, meaning any band member can vote even if they don't live in Fort Liard.

"Those people who live (outside) are still affected by decisions that the band makes, so they should be allowed to vote," Coakwell said, adding more than 500 people are eligible to vote in the election.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada has a list of eligible voters, which has been posted in Fort Liard, she added.

The election will be held May 15 at the band office, with advance polls opening May 12.

Although Cathy Kotchea, Steve Kotchea and Peter Bertrand could not be reached for comment by press time, all three had announced their intentions to run regardless of whether their names were on the candidates list.

Shortly after the original candidates list was released, all three wrote separate letters which were posted on bulletin boards in the community declaring their intentions to campaign anyway.

Those letters alleged "dirty politics," personal attacks and bullying had been taking place against the three candidates, and condemned their disqualifications as an attack on their rights.

"My message to Acho Dene Koe is simple. This election is very important because this will be the chief and council that brings back programs to the band, finishes our treaty

and starts ADK down a new path," stated Bertrand.

"If we elect people who have no problem taking away my rights, I worry about what they will do to other people who disagree with them if they get into power."

Their initial disqualification and subsequent reinstatement also kicked up a social media storm on Fort Liard's Facebook page, where band members took to their keyboards to express displeasure or satisfaction with the decisions.

Coakwell also weighed in on that page, encouraging band members to vote in the election and stressing that the community as a whole should look at bringing in a ratified election code.

Coakwell said the band members will make their own choice once election day rolls around.

"I personally believe the members of Acho Dene Koe First Nation will decide what's best for them overall as a community, in the true essence of democracy," she told News/North.

"I believe even though it seems like a process right now, in the end it's a valid process."

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