Federal court rules against Bigstone residency rule

Leader staff

A federal court has ruled a Bigstone Cree Nation requirement that chief and councillors live on reserve is invalid. According to a report in the National Post, Judge Sylvie Roussel said the residency requirement, ‘reinforces the historical stereotype that off-reserve band members are less worthy and entitled, not on the basis of merit, but because they live off reserve.’

The Bigstone leadership won’t be happy with the decision. Its contention all along, says the Post story, has been that “its customs and right to self-government must be respected.”

Roussel’s decision clearly puts more weight on the Charter rights of Bigstone members, wherever they might reside.

The case arose after the 2015 band election, when a councillor was removed for not living on reserve. The Post story says Clifford Cardinal of Calling Lake lived 150 metres off Bigstone land in that community. The case ended up in federal court because Cardinal decided to challenge the decision to remove him.

Bigstone plans to appeal the Roussel ruling, and Cardinal doubts if he will run again.

Whether the Roussel decision will influence this fall’s election for chief and council remains to be seen. One Bigstone member tells The Leader the decision “will be used as an open door,” suggesting that non-resident members will be running for positions.

One of those positions that appear to be wide open at this point is for chief, since long-time holder of that position Gordon T. Auger has announced he won’t be running. That was reported in the July 19 Wabasca Fever, which printed a July 4 letter by Auger to Bigstone Council.

“Please accept this letter as my retirement notice effective Sept. 15, 2018,” the letter says.

Auger has been Bigstone Chief four (non-consecutive) terms, totalling about 16 years.

Meanwhile, according to information being shared online by the Bigstone Empowerment Society, it looks as if the election date will be later than expected, thanks to a delay in the required notices being posted. As of press time no notice on the election appeared on the BCN website.

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