Last month during band elections on the O’Chiese First Nation in central Alberta, incumbent Chief Darren Whitford won his seventh straight term after a new electoral rule, which required candidates to be fluent in one of the local indigenous languages, disqualified all challengers.
Unfortunately, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is unlikely to intervene in the matter because the O’Chiese operate under a “custom” election code — not the Indian Act election system.
A new Fraser Institute study highlights the problematic aspects of custom election codes for First Nations in Canada. While custom codes allow First Nations to create institutions that act as a check on elected chief and council, they have a serious weakness — once INAC signs off on the custom code, it no longer oversees its evolution and cannot intervene.
Using legal research, the study finds that many First Nations under custom codes encounter problems and end up in costly and divisive court battles. Crucially, the self-governance allowed by the custom system may allow communities to drift away from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other modern human rights norms.
Indigenous communities in Canada should look at the new data contained in this study before committing wholeheartedly to custom election codes.
They must understand the bad as well as the good. The wellness of their communities depends on it.