Anthony Hughboy has a valid point, the Cree-Naskapi Commission has ruled, when he says Ouje-Bougoumou’s election and membership laws are applied inconsistently. However, in a report issued November 23, the Commission says only the courts can settle the issue.
The problem lies in the fact that Hughboy, who only became a member of the band on January 18 this year, was told he could not run as band councillor in the 2003 election because he hadn’t officially transferred his membership from Wemindji. Yet Gaston Cooper, who was elected to band council in 2002, had also not transferred his band number to OJ and Cooper was still allowed to run, and win.
“In the past I got nominated as a councillor and there wasn’t a problem,” said Hughboy. “I didn’t run in the 2002 election, but an elder nominated me in July 2003 for a seat that was left vacant by a councillor who had departed.
That’s when I was informed that I wasn’t a member of OJ.”
Hughboy says he can’t understand why Cooper was allowed to serve on council while he is not. “I don’t know what kind of list they were using,” said Hughboy. “I have nothing against Mr. Cooper personally; I just think that the policies in Ouje-Bougoumou should be clear.”
Hughboy asked the Cree-Naskapi Commission to do some research on the matter. Their findings, as taken from their report, are as follows:
Based on the review of the facts as described in the present report, the commission concludes that the individual concerned, (Gaston Cooper) presently, does not appear to be an elector of the Ouje-Bougoumou Cree Nation and therefore should not have been accepted as a candidate for the office of council member of the Ouje-Bougoumou Cree Nation in the general election held on August 11, 2003.
However, only a court of law can determine the definite status of the individual concerned as an elector of the Ouje-Bougoumou Cree Nation and the validity of the election of the individual concerned as a member of the Council of the Ouje-Bougoumou Cree Nation.
“What kind of a role are the Chief and Council playing by not resolving the problem,” Hughboy fumed. “They never bothered to resolve it. They’re just simply hoping it’s going to go away.”
When asked what should be done, Hughboy replied, “Not really change the election code, but follow what it says. If in order for you to run you have to be what it says, and if you’re not, then you’re not.”
Sophie Bosum, the Deputy Chief of Ouje-Bougoumou, says she wrote a letter to Hughboy saying the council would study the issue, not only concerning the Cree-Naskapi Act but also OJ bylaws.
Bosum said she checked with the band’s lawyers for a legal opinion, and was supposed to receive word by December 15 via email. Bosum claims computer problems have prevented the arrival of the email as of late January.
“We have a law that governs us, but we’re still not part of the Cree-Naskapi Act and are not a recognized band yet, so we have our own election by-laws which we try to follow,” she chuckled. “But I guess some people aren’t happy. Mr. Hughboy was talking about contesting it during the election. He had 10 days to file a protest, but did not do so.”
She also pointed out that because of OJ’s unique status, they sometimes go by Cree Traditional Law.
Cree Traditional Law is an unwritten code that enables an individual to run for office after living in the community for a long time (how much time is open to interpretation), while their transfer from one band to another is still pending.
“When a member has lived in our community for so many years and is a part of our community…we felt that’s how we should look at it for now,” Bosum stated.
But Hughboy believes the band council has blacklisted him. If the traditional law applied to Cooper, it should have applied to him as well, he said. He wondered aloud if his outspoken ideals on where the band should spend their money affected his eligibility.
“In the general assembly last fall, I brought up some of the expenses by the council members such as bringing their spouse, all expenses paid, on business trips,” he observed. “We managed to pass a resolution with the people that were in the meeting, but nothing was ever done about it.
A lot of money is spent on these trips, he says, when the band council could be having the meetings in OJ. “They were supposed to decide if these guys were going to continue to go to Montreal and Osprey.”
Gaston Cooper, meanwhile, thinks Hughboy is just causing trouble.
“When I was first nominated as councillor [in August 2002], there was already a question as to my eligibility,” said Cooper, who admits to only getting his OJ band number after the election. “It was brought up at the nomination meeting, but according to Cree Traditional Law, I was eligible.”
Cooper’s application for band membership took 10 years to be completed. “It wasn’t my fault that it took so long,” he said.
Cooper also says people’s living situations in an unorganized band area lead to informal political status. “When I was a boy I lived in Chapais in a tent frame. That’s where I was raised. We lived alongside the people of OJ before they had a community. When I had my first child with my wife, who is an Ouje-Bougoumou band member, that’s when I decided to officially change over.”
He figured that he was already a member when his name was included in the 1992 Canada-Ouje-Bougoumou Agreement. It states to the government that he was going to stay in OJ once a land base had been formed.
Regardless of how he became a member, he says, he is one now and he just wants to put this behind him.
“For me this is a non-issue. I’ve done a lot for the community and the community has done a lot for me. No one talks about it except for Mr. Hughboy. None of the Elders or any of my colleagues have ever questioned my candidacy, it’s just this one person.”
For Hughboy, however, the election question is only part of the problem. A few years ago Hughboy and his wife were trying to open up a sporting goods store and they were refused funding from Eenou Companee. It was only after Hughboy’s name was taken off the application that they were able to start up the store.
Everything was approved in principle, said Hughboy, but when it came to get the money from the band’s Socio-Economic Development Program (SEDP), he was refused because he wasn’t an Ouje-Bougoumou member.
“I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to get the funding, yet before that Gaston had established Cooper Digital [his photography company] and he got the funding from SEDR” said Hughboy.
Cooper would only say that because his name appears on the 1992 agreement, he was entitled to funding as an Ouje-Bougoumou member.
“Me and Gaston were in the same boat, but this guy seemed to be getting on the boat left and right,” Hughboy said.
After his family took over the sporting goods company, Hughboy and his wife purchased a cable company in December 2004. Once again, he had to put it under his wife’s name in order to secure Eenou Companee funding.