Cote First Nation votes to remove council

Members of the Cote First Nation staged a vote of non-confidence last week to oust their chief and council over accusations of fraud and embezzlement.

Rosalind Caldwell, leader of the group that organized the vote, said on Thursday that more than 1,000 votes in favor of the non-confidence motion had been received since July 26. In theory, this should be enough to relieve Chief Norman Whitehawk and his council of their duties. But despite Caldwell's statements that the results are now "official," the council has not stepped down and the next steps are uncertain.

Last Tuesday's vote arose out of claims of severe corruption among Chief Whitehawk and some members of the Cote First Nation Band Council.

"At first I thought we were talking maybe a hundred dollars or something that was misplaced," said Caldwell.

But upon reviewing dozens of documents given to her by four members of council "excluded" from its activities, Caldwell claims she discovered evidence of corruption on a much larger scale. She now suggests that as much as $27 million of band money has been mishandled, most of it from the 2008
Pelly Haylands land claim settlement.

"It's gone. It's spent. Nobody knows where the money is."

Caldwell, a Regina-based urban band member, insists that she has the documentation to prove a long list of illegal acts by the Chief and council. She said she delivered it to police late last week in pursuit of criminal charges.

But the band leadership-in the midst of signing a land claim settlement even larger than the Pelly Haylands claim-remains in place, and Chief Whitehawk continues to enjoy fervent support among some Cote members.

The non-confidence vote on July 26 was an unorthodox one; according to Caldwell, the members were locked out of their own band hall and a sign was posted on the door threatening trespassing charges against any voters who entered.

The Cote First Nation is governed under a Band Custom Election Act, meaning that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has no power to determine the legitimacy of the non-confidence vote.

"They are responsible for resolving any internal disputes. Our role is very hands-off," said Aboriginal Affairs spokesperson Rod Desnomie on Thursday.

If the band fails to achieve consensus, the matter can be taken to the courts.

Caldwell believes that consensus has been achieved. She and her fellow petitioners spent last week meeting with Elders for the purpose of appointing an electoral officer and setting dates for nominations and a new band election.

Chief Whitehawk did not respond to requests for comment.

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