It’s not over yet.

After one of the closest elections for Grand Chief in modern Cree history, Matthew Mukash says he will exhaust all avenues to ensure the Aug. 28 vote was as free and fair as possible.

The challenger to incumbent Ted Moses for Cree Grand Chief lost by only 28 votes, 2,139 to 2111, after the ballots were first tabulated Aug. 29. That lead was increased to 34 votes after an official recount Sept. 3, said returning officer John Henry Wapachee, who has certified the result.

Ted Moses has claimed victory. “I am honoured to be re-elected as Grand Chief of the Cree Nation (Eeyou Istchee) and will continue to build upon the work that we initiated in my previous term,” Moses said in a press release Aug. 29. “I take the result as a reaffirmation of my mandate to continue to implement the Agreement and new relationship with Quebec and to develop a similar approach to implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement with Canada.” But Mukash isn’t ready to concede: “This is a very close result. For me, it’s not a strong mandate.” Many were quick to agree.

Eric Gagnon, of the Rupert Reverence environmental group, says the results show a widening rift among the James Bay Cree. “The increasing apprehension must be, on one hand, attributed to EM-1 and EM-1 A hydroelectric projects on the Rupert and Eastmain Rivers and, on the other hand, to the popular discontent concerning the unethical process that led to the ratification of the Cree-Quebec Agreement six months ago,” Gagnon said.

Mukash observes that Moses received 1,000 fewer votes than those who voted for the Agreement in the referendum last fall – and with a much larger turnout. He says he owes to people to ensure the final results are valid.

“As I’ve said to many people, this is not over yet,” Mukash said. “A lot of people are on my back to challenge this and I think I’ll go along with their wishes. I think we are going to have a lot of unhappy people if we don’t go any further. We will exhaust all the avenues available to us. Once that’s done we can make a decision to support the other party.” The former Deputy Grand Chief believes there are a number of election irregularities that make the final result suspect.

In Waskaganish, several people who arrived before the polls closed at 7 pm were unable to vote because the polling station had run out of ballots. Wapachee says the local returning officer went to get more from his house but had inadvertantly locked himself out.

“The last voters came in to cast their ballots at 6:55 pm,” Wapachee recounts. “But all 500 ballots had been used up. At 18:56 the returning officer went to pick up the remaining 500 ballots at his home. I don’t know what the heck they were doing at his place; they’re not supposed to be there. But he couldn’t get into his house. Five more voters came in before the closing. But they weren’t able to vote because there was no more ballots.” Wapachee said about 20 more people arrived after the 7 pm closing hour, even though there was plenty of notice in radio interviews and posters around the community that polls closed at that time. “What do you want me to do? The thing that pisses me off is that people make excuses all the time. Some of them are pretty stupid sometimes. We have done everything we could to publicize this thing.” Then there’s the case of Chee-Bee Construction in Chisasibi. About 30 Chee-Bee employees signed an official complaint that their employer did not allow them time to go vote on the 28th.

They complained to local band councillor Larry House. He told them to file a complaint. “In all elections, there’s a time that’s allowed for employees to do their democratic duty,” said House. “As a councillor and as a citizen, this didn’t seem kosher to me. I was bothered and disappointed to hear this.” If the Chee-Bee workers had voted in proportion to other Chisasibi residents, who massively backed Mukash by more than a two-to-one margin, the final result would have been even closer.

House doesn’t want to speculate if there was a political reason behind the denial of voting leave. He does note, however, that, “The company stands to gain from having the pro-agreement people in power. But I can’t say that is the reason.” Nonetheless, House recalls that when he worked for Chee-Bee Construction on LG-4 back in the 1990s, he was allowed time off to go vote in a referendum. “I don’t understand why it wouldn’t be the same for this election. The fact that this happened at all bothers me, it’s not who these workers would have supported.” Wapachee has received and noted the complaint. But he says there’s nothing he can do in this case. “I cannot go in there and act as a mediator between the employer and the employees,” Wapachee said. “The onus is on the employer. I don’t see the reason it didn’t happen in that case.” But the biggest source of uncounted votes by Quebec Cree beneficiaries are in Moose Factory, Ontario. The Mocreebec council says that over 500 potential voters weren’t given the chance to cast ballots.

Allan Jolly, Mocreebec’s Community Economic Development Officer, says that many Quebec Crees in Moose Factory -about half of whom are affiliated with the Waskaganish band – would have liked to vote in the election.

“We saw that there were polling stations all over the place, even in North Bay,” said Jolly. “But there was no effort to set up a polling station here on the part of the Grand Council.” Indeed, there also polling stations set up in Montreal, Ottawa, Val D’Or, Amos and Senneterre. In all, 358 votes were collected from other polls.

Jolly believes that in light of the 1999 Corbiere court decision, which ruled band members living off-reserve still have the right to vote in band elections, the Mocreebec people should have been consulted as well.

“I guess the feeling among some of us here is that we are wondering: are we ever going to see a change in this attitude toward us?” Jolly asked. “Sometimes we feel that as long as the old guard – who negotiated the JBNQA back in the 1970s – are there, we won’t ever get the support we need.” Jolly speculates that people in Moose Factory were leaning toward Mukash in the election for Grand Chief. He also notes that Mocreebec opposed the Agreement with Quebec, though mainly because they weren’t consulted. He says Ted Moses was invited to visit and explain the agreement, but he never responded to the request.

Mukash, for his part, believes the Mocreebec people should “definitely” had an opportunity to vote in the Grand Council election.

Wapachee said there is no tradition of setting up a poll at Moose Factory, and that he wasn’t instructed to do so by the Grand Council. He concedes the Corbiere decision may change that in the future. But he also says the Mocreebec people are quite mixed with Moose Cree, Anishinabe and Appiwaskat people.

Overall, however, Wapachee says there’s no doubt in his mind that all election workers had the materials and instructions they needed to carry out the election in a fair and effective manner.

“I warned every returning officer. I said, ‘Listen. The reason I am doing this is that I am very cautious about this election. I see it’s going to be very intense. It is all going to be a political game afterward.’ The only advice I gave them was, ‘Watch your backs, because this is very serious stuff.’ I had predicted that neither would walk away with more than 50 per cent of the votes on this one. And sure enough, that’s what happened.” If Mukash wants to call for a re-vote, Wapachee says that request would have to go back to the Grand Council board, which would consult its legal counsel before making a decision.

But that’s where Mukash says the process breaks down. He notes that lawyer John Paul Murdoch provides the legal advice for the returning officer – and for the Grand Chief at the same time. “I’m not satisfied,” Mukash said. “I have a problem with that. In my mind, an election has to be fair and impartial. And I don’t see how a returning officer can be fair and impartial with legal counsel behind them that works for the Grand Council.” Stay tuned.