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Band councillor cries foul

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 08/06) - A Yellowknives Dene band councillor said she was dismissed and her band membership revoked after asking too many pointed questions during council meetings.

Barbara Powless-LaBelle was acclaimed as a band councillor during a byelection last June to replace two outgoing members.
NNSL Photo/graphic

Barbara Powless-LaBelle, a Yellowknives Dene band councillor, said she was removed from council and had her band membership revoked on Nov. 28 for asking too many questions about impact benefit agreement payments. - Mike W. Bryant/NNSL photo

At a band council meeting held Nov. 28, Powless-LaBelle said Dettah Chief Peter Liske ordered her to leave after the meeting went in-camera.

She said there was only one item on the agenda, which was titled "One recommendation from the elders."

"The discussion was regarding me," said Powless-LaBelle.

"I had to leave the room."

A few hours later, Powless-LaBelle said she was ushered back into the meeting room, where Liske told her she had been ejected from council on advice from Yellowknives elders, and that her band membership had been revoked.

"They didn't give me any explanation," said Powless-LaBelle.

"It felt like I was being thrown out of the country."

Powless-LaBelle said she believes she was expelled over questions she raised about mine impact benefit agreement payments to band members, which are collected by the band administration before distribution to the membership.

She said information presented to council on these payments from mining companies was typically "vague."

Powless-LaBelle wasn't born into her Yellowknives band membership.

It was "transferred in" after her mother moved first from near Great Bear Lake to a mission school in Fort Providence, then on to Yellowknife as a young girl.

Powless-LaBelle said she has been a Yellowknives Dene band member since 1998.

She said some 50 per cent of Yellowknives band members have been transferred in from various Dene communities around the North over the years. Some, she said, have approached her with concerns that they'll be next on the hit list.

"They're asking me, 'Well, are they going to remove me?'" said Powless-LaBelle.

George Cleary, director of Indian and Inuit services with the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, said he is aware of Powless-LaBelle's situation. He said if chiefs and council did in fact revoke her membership, such a move would be illegal under the Indian Act.

"The band doesn't have any authority to do that," said Cleary. "They can't just remove somebody from their band list."

Cleary added, however, that his department has no say over decisions to remove band councillors. First Nations band elections in the NWT are self-regulated and aren't covered under the Indian Act.

Liske called the situation an "internal matter," and declined further comment.