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Letter sent to minister over Tsiigehtchic election
Phillip Blake acclaimed in June contest denied opponent chance to contest vote

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Monday, August 24, 2015

The fight over the legality of June's election for chief of Tsiigehtchic is continuing with several people signing on to a letter that has been sent to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANDC) Minister Bernard Valcourt.

The dispute centres around the acclamation of incumbent Phillip Blake. Grace Blake tried to run against the chief but was prevented from doing so, according to former electoral officer for Tsiigehtchic Graeme Drew.

"There was a concern around Grace's eligibility because she was not on the band list that was issued by aboriginal affairs (AANDC). However, there is a provision in our election code that we were applying ... That allows for exception in extraordinary circumstances and that was the case with Grace," Drew said.

The letter to Valcourt states that by allowing Blake's acclamation to stand, Valcourt has given legal authority and approval to illegal band council resolutions which adversely affect members of the Gwichya Gwich'in Band (GGB). "Unfortunately, both you and 'Chief' Phillip Blake are comfortable with doing nothing as noted in either the lack of written response or in responses lacking explanation or rationale from AANDC and/or the GGB Council," the letter states.

The letter also states that unless Valcourt gets involved and tries to resolve the conflict the people who have signed the letter will move forward with federal court action to "uphold our aboriginal and democratic rights."

The letter was signed by Tsiigehtchic residents Alestine Andre, James Benoit-Cardinal, Carolyn Lennis, Anna May MacLeod, Lawrence Norbert and Peter Ross as well as James Cardinal, who lives in Whitehorse.

Drew, who currently works as a consultant in Vancouver, had previously been the band manager in Lutsel K'e. He said he was approached by the band administrator last September and was asked if he would assist in Tsiigehtchic's election because they had experienced quite a few problems with theirs the last couple of elections. Drew said there is an upside to this entire controversy.

"It's been a great exercise to build community engagement for members. Members from all across the country are more informed on what's going on now especially with all the media coverage," Drew said.

"We also basically rewrote the election code which was quite ambiguous and confusing. It was successfully ratified on June 15 which is really the milestone news that unfortunately got tarnished with all of this."

Calls to Chief Blake and Valcourt had not been returned as of press time.

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