A Sept. 5 ratification vote on what to do with a large treaty settlement for K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) has become the subject of an appeal.
In a Sept. 6 news release, KFN’s chief and council advised that an appeal had been received concerning the results of the vote on dispersing a $28.3-million agricultural benefits settlement under the so-called plows and cows section of Treaty 8.
“Nineteen of the mail-in ballots received before the close of polls were not opened or counted by the ratification officer because the voter identification envelope was not completely or properly filled out,” stated the KFN news release. “In some cases, the voter’s treaty number was not included or contained errors. In other cases, the voter identification envelope was not signed by a witness.”
The appeal will be decided by an appeals officer retained for the ratification vote.
The voter guidelines for the referendum – which was to approve a cash payment to individual band members and the establishment of a trust fund – require the ratification officer to determine that each mail-in ballot is from an eligible voter, and to establish that the voter had not otherwise voted in an advance poll or on voting day.
“The appeals officer is being asked to decide whether those mail-in ballots for which the identity of the sender can otherwise be determined from the information available on the voter identification envelope should be opened and included as ballots cast in the referendum vote,” stated the KFN news release.
It also noted the results of the appeal may affect the outcome of the vote.
“The sole interest of the chief and council in this matter is to ensure that all of the eligible votes cast in the referendum are counted so that the result reflects the democratic will of the KFN membership,” stated the release.
The decision on the appeal is expected to be known this week, and a final result for the referendum will be posted afterwards.
There were no official numbers released for the initial vote count.
Peter Groenen, chief executive officer with KFN, said the appeal did not come from chief and council, but an individual band member whom he declined to identify.
The chief and council want every member’s vote to count, he said. “They want the democratic process to prevail.”
Groenen noted no one knows if the unopened 19 mail-in ballots are for or against the proposed settlement.
“The vote is so close that they’re relevant,” he said.
There were about 460 eligible voters.
They voted on a proposed $15,000 payment for each band member, including for young people when they turn 18 years of age, and establishing an $18-million trust fund for things like scholarships and economic development.
Doug Lamalice, a prominent member of KFN, said the vote count was 135 opposed and 132 in favour.
Lamalice added there shouldn’t be an appeal.
“You can’t call spoiled ballots at the beginning and then turn around because the decision didn’t go your way and decide to throw them back in,” he said, noting the rules were agreed upon.
In addition, he said the name of the person who launched the appeal should be made public.
Lamalice noted the proposed distribution of money received so many no votes because band members had expected a much higher individual payment.
“Instead, they turn around and held a referendum with an offer of $15,000 hoping that everybody would take that,” he said.
Late last year, KFN members voted overwhelmingly to accept the $28.3-million settlement with the federal government for the agricultural benefits promises made in Treaty 8.
In the treaty, Canada promised to provide the Hay River Indian Band – now KFN – with agricultural benefits, including farming tools, equipment and animals, once a reserve was established. The Hay River Reserve was established in 1974, but agricultural benefits were not provided at that time.