Electoral reform

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This year’s elections for Grand Chief and Deputy Grand Chief was handled differently than in the past. There have certainly been many changes over the past decades in the way we choose our leaders. It’s only been since the 1970s that we have had a regional governing body for the Cree with a Grand Chief and Deputy Grand Chief. It’s a process that depends heavily on the person the Grand Council of the Crees appoints to run the election.

There have been some new wrinkles in the process that I do not feel reflect the traditions or culture of the Cree. An emphasis on secrecy has come to tarnish what was once a far more transparent democratic exercise.

This year, the Cree and their media outlets were deprived of information about who had been nominated until those people accepted or declined to run. This was not done in the past. Was there a need for Cree voters to know? Yes, as they could have encouraged or discouraged those nominated. Some of those who declined may have accepted if they thought they had enough support through interested voters, volunteers to help them, offers of services or products and funding.

Transparency should be the norm in a democratic electoral system. Former chief electoral officer Kenny Loon always released the names when the deadline for nominations passed. That is understandable as people were already comparing notes on social media and piecing together the lists of nominations. This year, only a select group of Cree knew who had been nominated, which frustrated voters.

Another problem this election season was a lack of a central, and coherent, information source. Yes, we knew about the advance and election-day polls, and where to vote. What about mail-in ballots, e-ballots, bush radio ballots and phone-in ballots? Was there a traveling poll to allow elderly or handicapped voters to participate? Should there be? During the Cree referendum on whether or not to stay in Canada or go with Quebec during the 1995 campaign on sovereignty, great measures were taken to ensure that all eligible Cree voters, wherever they were, had the opportunity to participate in deciding the future of the Cree Nation.

Information released by the current chief electoral officer about election-day voting was disappointing. It’s a mystery why usual data points were not made available. We don’t know how many voters were eligible to vote in comparison to those who exercised their right, which is a crucial element in judging the health of our democracy.

On each election night, when polling stations would report in the results, they only be visible for a few minutes. Looking for results in different communities was akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. No results were passed on to any Cree media.

On behalf of the Nation, I requested we be sent results on second-round voting as polls reported. Initially, some were sent, though more than an hour late. Then nothing. I eventually stopped checking my emails thinking that I wasn’t going to receive anything. CBC Cree Media told me that they never even received a response to their requests from the chief electoral officer.

There needs to be a relationship developed with Cree media during both regional and local Cree elections. Many voters follow Cree media and we have the experience to handle the information flow as well as any mainstream media during federal or provincial elections. Yes, social media and new technologies have an important part to play, but it must not be the primary method used to deliver information to voters.

We need tools and clearly expressed rules to ensure democracy is transparent, fair and easily accessible. At a time that we aspire to fully govern ourselves, the Cree electoral system must also evolve in order to ensure accessibility, fairness and transparency. This will be an important task for the new Grand Council leadership, and we hope to see higher democratic standards in place for future elections.


2017 Election Results

Grand Chief / Chairperson

Abel Bosum                3157                56%

Rodney Mark              2490                44%


Deputy Grand Chief / Vice-Chairperson

Mandy Gull                 2933                52%

John Matoush              2736                48%



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