Ouje-Bougoumou has put an end to several weeks of debate about last summer’s election for chief by deciding to hold a re-election.
Residents voted for a new election by a 101-52 margin at a recent community assembly. A date wasn’t chosen as of press time. The decision put to a rest the turbulence of the past six months since Louise Wapachee was elected chief last summer.
The problems for Wapachee started even before the vote. For some residents, it was simply the fact that they didn’t want a female chief.
Others complained that Wapachee should have resigned from her position as the band’s treasurer when she ran for chief. They pointed to an election bylaw which they said prohibits a chief candidate from staying on as treasurer or secretary to prevent conflict-of-interest.
The Cree-Naskapi Commission was called in to investigate. After an investigation. it concluded that there may have been errors, but the bylaw is ambiguous and there was no solid basis to contest the election. The commission recommended the community deal with the issue internally.
But one unsuccessful candidate for chief, Joseph Shecapio-Blacksmith, wasn’t happy and threatened to take the issue to court. Also, an Elder, Robert Bosum, had come forward to say the returning officer told him who to vote for. That’s when the community agreed to hold a re-election.
Wapachee also rubbed a few people the wrong way when she proposed cuts to the payments the former chief and councilors had decided to give themselves as “recognition awards.”
The payments totalled several hundred thousand dollars. For example, Joseph Shecapio-Blacksmith, a member of the old council, got $25,000. Abel Bosum, former chief, got $120,000, on top of one year’s pay as a severance bonus.
Wapachee apparently considered the amounts to be too rich for the small community of about 600 people, and she proposed to cut the amounts in half.
Since the recognition payments had been approved at a community assembly, Wapachee suggested holding another assembly to change the amounts.
After the inevitable outcry, the payments were never cut. But a few community members were bent out of shape.
It also didn’t help matters when whispering started over Wapachee hiring a family member as the band’s director-general. Soon, she was also being accused of nepotism. Still more controversy erupted when Wapachee decided not to take Abel Bosum up on his request to stay on as a consultant to the band.
Wapachee was away from the office for several days and couldn’t be reached.
For Joseph Shecapio-Blacksmith, the main issue is the election itself, especially Wapachee staying on as treasurer. “We cannot continue to ignore our laws whenever we feel like it,” he said.
But Abel Bosum gave a long list of concerns that he said are bothering residents. “It’s pretty unfortunate it turned out this way. There were some changes that came a little too fast for people, and I think that’s part of the reason for what’s happening.”