In any society or culture, there exists a political structure. It can be a dictatorship, monarchy, oligarchy (rule by the few) or a democracy. In all cases, citizens should understand the rules of their government.
This also applies to Crees. Without at least a basic understanding of the processes by which we govern ourselves, we are helpless.
Of great importance in understanding that process is the 1984 Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act. This Act applies to Cree and Naskapi territory in northern Quebec. It covers the powers (and limitations) of band governments, conducting band meetings, elections and referendums, financial administration, land registry, property, policing, justice and basically all you need to know to begin to understand how Cree government works.
Understanding it is simple and easy. Just contact the Cree-Naskapi Commission and ask for A Plain Language Summary of the Cree-Naskapi Act.
This book is not a legal document, according to the Commission’s David Shawana, but a tool. It was designed to index and summarize the Cree-Naskapi Act so people could understand it. This summary is an educational tool for the people and communities. It is now part of the Cree School Board’s curriculum so our future generations will have a better working knowledge of the Cree world. I would recommend you write to the Commission for your copy today. The address is at the end of this article. For those who can’t wait for it to arrive, read on for a summary of that summary.
The Cree-Naskapi Act contains all the tools as well as the rules for local government, and it supercedes federal law.
Band Councils or Local Government
Did you know?
A Band may change its name but only with federal cabinet approval after a community referendum where at least 55 of the electors voted. For example, I would only need say 200 people maximum to change the name of the Mistissini Band to Will’s Band and an intensive lobbying effort in Ottawa. Not that I would ever contemplate such a thing.
The important duties of a band government under law are:
• to be the local government
• to manage Category I lands
• regulate the use of buildings
• manage the band’s finances
• promote community development and charitable works
• promote and preserve the culture, values and traditions of the people.
The Band Council (a.k.a. Band) can even legally act like a person.
The Band acts by passing resolutions. However, in most cases by-laws require a special Band meeting where they will be voted on and require a minimum number of electors.
If a Band Councillor has a financial interest in some issue the Band is discussing, they must say so. They are not allowed to
vote or talk. If there is a disagreement concerning this, the Council votes on it.
The Band Secretary is an important person under the Act. In addition to preparing the minutes of all meetings, this person has the power to make certified copies of Band documents. This includes all the by-laws that cover your life in the community.
Did I mention that in most cases you can change these bylaws if you think they aren’t any good? This is called democracy and it can work particularly well in small communities like the nine Cree communities. It requires a little work, some patience and a little understanding. By-laws are ratified (OK’d) by the Band members at Band meetings. At these same meetings, you can propose your own by-laws. If enough people agree with you through a vote, then it becomes a valid by-law, providing it does not take away from certain rights.
Another important point is that Band Councils must meet at least once every four months and these meetings are open to the public. The chairman can expel anyone who is acting improperly.
By-laws concerning elections must mention the following information:
• that an election is being called and giving notice for it
• number of councillors
• term (length) of office
• how to vote for the Chief and councillors
• procedures for nominations and voting
• a way to record and certify the election’s results
These are the minimum election by-law
requirements and these can be added to as decided by the members of a Band.
A council seat, including the Chief’s office, may become vacant if:
• the election is declared invalid
• the person dies or resigns
• is appointed Band secretary, Band treasurer or judge
• is jailed for a serious offense or declared mentally incompetent
• term of office expires or because of absences.
If a council member misses three or more meetings in a row without the Band’s permission and not because of illness, that member can lose their position on the council. It requires at least 15 members requesting a special meeting. At least 20 per cent of the registered electors must be present at this meeting.
In addition, 10 electors can request a special meeting to decide if a general election shall be held. They must make the request through the Band secretary after one year has passed since the last election. A general election will be called if 50 per cent of the voters are at the meeting and the majority vote in favor of it.
To contest an election result, one of the candidates in the election or 15 electors (eligible voters) must deposit $200 with the band returning officer within five days of the election. At a Band meeting you can extend the five-day limit to a higher number of days, but not a lower one.I would read the Cree-Naskapi Act before doing this. Your Band Council will have a copy on hand and you are allowed access to it.
Meetings and referendums
All electors are allowed to vote as well as attend Band meetings. A Band must hold at least one meeting per year. Notices of this meeting must be posted, as well as the agenda. At these meetings, electors may make by-laws.
Rules and by-laws may differ from community to community. See the Band secretary for your community by-laws.
Before a new fiscal year (April 1), a band must adopt a yearly budget. The council must explain the budget to you and have copies at the Band Council office so you can look at them.
A Band must keep financial records. You as an elector, or anyone you may designate, are allowed to have access to these records. Anyone who does not allow you to do this or doesn’t help you is guilty of an offense.
A Band must prepare a financial statement within two months after the end of a fiscal year. This means you can ask to see it on June 1.
You as an elector at a special Band meeting get to choose an auditor who will prepare a report on the Band’s financial statements. This report may contain recommendations that you as a responsible citizen should be aware of.
For a Band to borrow money, a by-law must be passed that tells the amount to be borrowed, why it is being borrowed, how it will be repaid and when it will be repaid.
When calling for tenders or awarding contracts, by-laws may state that Cree or Naskapi beneficiaries are given preferential treatment where agreements allow this preferential treatment.
If the Minister of Indian Affairs believes that a Band’s financial affairs are in serious disorder, the Minister may appoint an administrator. This administrator will put the financial affairs in order and then return control to the Band.
There are a maximum of three members who are appointed to the Commission by the federal government on the advice of the CRA and the Naskapi Band.
A council member, officer, employee or agent of a Band may not be a member of the Commission.
Terms of office are for two years.
The Commission investigates complaints. These complaints must not be before the courts at the same time. The Commission can refuse to investigate if they feel the person making the complaint:
• is not acting in good faith
• doesn’t have enough interest in the complaint
• or the investigation would serve no useful purpose or if there is an alternative way to deal with the problem. The Commission must explain why it isn’t investigating in writing to the person who made the complaint.
The Commission must tell the Minister of Indian Affairs, the Band and all the people involved if they are investigating a complaint. Investigations are done in private unless the Commission decides that no one will be harmed if it is done in public.
The person who makes the complaint can request that their identity be kept secret.
The Commission can only request their cooperation and before rendering a negative judgment must give the person a chance to explain their actions.
People who are guilty of offenses under sections 38 (conflict-of-interest), 44 (withholding of Band property), 91 (failure to keep proper Band financial records), 95 (refusing an audit), 100 (illegal spending of Band funds) or 108 (obstruction or trespass) have maximum fines of $2,000 and or up to six months in jail.
People who disobey Cree/Naskapi Act regulations face the same fines. The same for people who break Band by-laws.
You cannot be sent to jail for non-payment of taxes.
For a copy of A Plain Language Summary of the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act write:
Cree-Naskapi Commission Suite 305 222 Queen Street Ottawa. Ontario KI P 5V9