Updated: May 4, 2021
Samson Cree Nation, located in Treaty 6 Territory of Alberta. Councillor Shay Yellowbird was removed from his office on August 10th after being elected just thirteen days prior. A by-election was then held on the 18th which Yellowbird was promptly disallowed from participating in. However, a judge in a federal court has now quashed that dismissal in turn. "Even though the Board found no evidence of any corrupt practice [to justify Yellowbird's removal], it invalidated [his] election and called a new election in which he was not allowed to run," reads the ruling. "There is no evidence upon which the Board could have reached such a conclusion. Therefore, the Board's decision must be quashed and Mr. Yellowbird must be reinstated as a councillor."
Justice Sebastien Grammond offered three key lines of reasoning whereby the Election Appeal Board's move to release Yellowbird had been "unreasonable." Firstly, there was no evidence the councillor had actually engaged in a corrupt practice (vote-buying, intimidation, or anything of the like). Secondly, there were issues of misinterpretation by the Board concerning the provision within the band law referring to "leave without pay" (which was utilized against Mr. Yellowbird). Here too did the judge side against the Board. Thirdly, the justice ruled that the calling of a by-election was "unreasonable" and could not be reconciled with the existing Election Law.
Given this, the court's judgement concluded the following: Yellowbird is to be validly elected, the election of the 18th rendered invalid, and the applicant awarded monetary compensation.
Yellowbird's lawyer offered up the following statement to The Buffalo Tribune after the trial: "The judge, who is an expert on Indigenous law, recognized the importance of properly interpreting First Nation laws. It was clear that Shay Yellowbird had not done anything that was wrong. What was wrong was allowing the Election Appeal Board to unreasonably interpret the Samson election law. Moreover, their actions denied the Samson Cree Nation members their right to vote and have the councillor of their choice. The July 28, 2020 election results were confirmed and the By-Election quashed. Shay Yellowbird was and is a councillor for the great Samson Cree Nation."
Shay texted me and told me he won, I was very happy for him and I congratulated him on this huge hurdle he was faced against.
Hopefully this case will set precedence for more cases to follow in the future, this will help bring more transparency and justice into Indigenous Governance across this country.
Many communities have become divided when issues of transparency and accountability is lacking from leadership, we have scene this demonstrated and some communities are still in healing over these matters.
But in order for equality and accountability, there has to follow up with checks and balances in place for all elected people and all families to be heard.
People like Shay give me hope to see our future leaders carry this mantle and move forward in unity and healing.