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Colville Lake fiasco heating up

NWT Status of Women Council accuses decision-makers of bias

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 17/01) - The NWT Status of Women Council wants the territorial government to intervene in Colville Lake's upcoming custom byelection to replace deposed chief Dora Duncan, and her daughter, band councillor Jennifer Duncan.

NNSL Photo

Status of Women Council executive director Barbara Saunders says she believes the band councillors did everything they could to ensure that the Duncans would lose their seats on council. - Mike Bryant/NNSL photo

In an interview with News/North, the council's executive director, Barbara Saunders, said she believes the other band councillors did everything they could to ensure that the Duncans would lose their seats on council, and for the most part, displayed blatant gender bias and nepotism in doing so.

"We need to look at the harassment and treatment of women leaders," said Saunders. "Something has got to happen or else this kind of crisis will continue."

The band council will meet in January to choose a date for a byelection.

Colville Lake band council voted to remove Duncan and her daughter Jennifer as chief and councillor, respectively, Nov. 23. Council claimed, under custom election law, that because the Duncans missed three consecutive council meetings that they were legally entitled to act upon the pair's removal.

Saunders also said that it appears the territorial Department of Municipal and Community Affairs and the federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development stood by while the duly elected chief and councillor were being forced out.

"There appears to be some bias there (from government officials)," said Saunders. "The MACA representative didn't follow what was agreed upon."

Saunders referred to a period of time back in September when a MACA officer was sent to the community to administer band affairs after band manager Joseph Kochon left his job temporarily.

She accused MACA of ignoring a request made by Duncan to advertise the band manager's position, and merely reinstated Kochon back on the job when he returned after a 30-day leave.

In a letter Saunders claims was written by Kochon following a stormy band council meeting in August, the band manager supposedly admitted quitting his job by apologizing for leaving on such short notice.

"The first paragraph of the letter stated Joseph Kochon apologizes for not giving proper notice for walking out." Saunders said the letter was sent to the Status of Women Council by Duncan.

Kochon and other band councillors have maintained all along that he never quit, but simply took a leave of absence.

A request made by News/North to speak with Steen was followed with a response from a GNWT communications officer stating that the minister would not be commenting on the matter, because band elections fall outside the territorial government's jurisdiction.

The responsibility belongs to DIAND.

Shaun Dean, a communications adviser with MACA, added that the decision to reinstate Kochon to his position was made by band council alone.

As for DIAND's role in the affair, Saunders accused them of rubber stamping the band council's resolution to oust Dora and Jennifer Duncan from their elected positions, without investigating whether the pair were actually notified when council meetings were being held.

"They haven't identified the dates (council meetings) they missed, and there was no public notice," said Saunders.

George Cleary, director of Indian and Inuit Services with DIAND, said because the Duncans have retained legal counsel, he could not make a comment.

In a letter to the editor of News/North, however, on the issue, Cleary says the "Behdzi Ahda First Nation is a custom election band. The band is not governed under the band election procedures of the Indian Act, and therefore DIAND does not have a direct role in this matter."

Dora Duncan declined to speak with News/North, but Jennifer Duncan -- who is currently working on a law degree at the University of British Columbia -- said she had an agreement with other band councillors that she would be allowed to continue her position while at school, and attend meetings via teleconference.

She also said she was never informed when band council were about to hold their 'so called council meetings.'

Acting Colville Lake Chief Sharon Tutcho disputes Duncan's claims.

She said council meeting notices are posted 24 hours before meetings are held, either in the band office or community store. She also said council tried to contact Jennifer Duncan at least twice, and on one occasion she hung up the phone during a meeting.

Tutcho was also perplexed by the Status of Women Council's claim that there is a gender bias in the community.

"People are not against her (Dora Duncan) because of gender, but because she is hard to work with," said Tutcho.

She also criticized the former chief for not informing council when she was leaving the community, and of harassing an elderly council member. "To be a leader, you have to listen to your people, and not criticize them," said Tutcho. "People make mistakes, it is human."