They say too many chefs spoil the broth. The community of Eastmain is proving that when two chiefs stir the soup too long and too hard, the whole kitchen can come crashing down.
Now the community of Eastmain will decide if a new election can improve the band council’s political recipe.
Chief Lloyd Mayappo called a special meeting January 23 to air his concerns over an ongoing dispute with Deputy Chief John Brown and to demand Brown resign his position. Mayappo had previously sent a letter to Brown outlining his complaints, and accusing Brown of disrespectful actions and statements.
“I cannot and no longer will tolerate your behaviour,” wrote Chief Mayappo. “You had started acting this way when Edward [Gilpin] was chief and you seem to have made this your trademark, getting bolder and louder all the time.”
Given many opportunities to explain the situation, however, Mayappo remained tight-lipped. When contacted by the Nation, he said simply that some people present at the community meeting had asked him “not to release any information to the media,” and he refused further comment before abruptly hanging up on a Nation reporter.
A January 14 press release stated that the purpose of the meeting was to: “ 1. Expose and explain to the members of the Cree Nation of Eastmain that the Council of the Cree Nation of Eastmain has become dysfunctional as a result of confrontations that keep arising between the Deputy-Chief and the Chief.”
Among the proposed solutions was “to indicate by vote that one or more resignations be tendered in order to resolve this crisis.”
The council ultimately decided to hold a referendum on February 4 with the simple question, “Do you want another election for Chief and Deputy Chief?”
The results, however, produced a low voter turnout of less than 50% so the referendum is not binding.
Deputy Chief Brown said a meeting would be held to decide what to do next.
The January 23 meeting was held mostly in Cree, a language John Brown does not speak, partly because he lived in Labrador for much of his life.
“He spoke in Cree and he did not provide me with a translator. I don’t think he wanted me to understand exactly what he was saying,” said Brown.
In the end, the community examined three ways to deal with the problem, including getting rid of all council members and holding a re-election for a new band council. Brown agreed with none of them.
“I finally got to speak after three and a half hours and I read a statement,” said Brown.
He said in the statement that he was not there to “drag people’s names through the mud, however, this is what it appears is the intent toward me.”
Brown went on to defend himself and caution the community against the precedent this meeting was setting.
The long-running feud between Mayappo and Brown stems from the election of September 2005, when Brown was reelected and Mayappo won his first term as Chief. An initial conflict, according to Brown, was Mayappo’s and other council member’s unwillingness to pay rent on houses rented through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
Brown was adamant that, to set a good example, everyone on council had to pay their rent.
Mayappo caused a stir in the community after he was involved in an early-morning brawl at L’Éscale Hotel in Val-d’Or soon after his election as Chief. He admitted to punching a man in the face because he felt he had been verbally
attacked. The other man was then pounced on by another man and a woman. Charges were never laid.
Brown said that despite the situation, he is willing to continue to work with Mayappo and he said that resigning his position as Deputy Chief was out of the question.
“I would not consider resigning until the people voted me out,” said Brown. “They gave me the confidence by nominating and electing me by a sizeable margin. To me it’s a message that they like me and what I stand for.”