People under 40 need not apply for Garden Hill council election

Would-be chiefs must be 50 or older

A chief over 50 years old and eight councillors aged 40 and above were due to be elected in Garden Hill First Nation March 26, according to election rules agreed upon at a meeting two weeks before the election.

The rules also barred anyone living in a common-law relationship from running for the chief and council positions.

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The election was made necessary earlier in the month when Chief Buddy Beardy and the council were voted out at a meeting of about 30 of the First Nation's residents, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief David Harper, a Garden Hill First Nation member and a former chief of the Island Lake area First Nation, told Dan Lett of the Winnipeg Free Press. Harper was thrice elected chief of Garden Hill First Nation and all three times was removed from office before his term ended.

Beardy's term, and that of all eight councillors, began February 8, 2013 and was due to end Feb. 7, 2015.

Election rules were established at a meeting of about 30 middle-aged residents, the Winnipeg Free Press reported March 19.

Garden Hill First Nation uses a custom electoral system and chief and councillors hold office for a two-year term, unless they are removed from office early.

As of February this year, the First Nation had a registered population of 4,427 members, including 3,743 living at on reserve. The median age of Garden Hill First Nation residents in 2006 was 20.1 according to Statistics Canada census data.

A fly-in Oji-Cree community accessible by land only during the winter road season, Garden Hill First Nation is about 300 kilometres southeast of Thompson by air. It was part of the Island Lake First Nation with Wasagamack, St. Theresa Point and Red Sucker Lake until 1969.

Residents of Garden Hill First Nation who spoke to the Winnipeg Free Press about the election rules said 80 per cent of the community was under 40. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Minster Bernard Valcourt told the Winnipeg Free Press in a statement that the federal government had no power to force changes to a custom election.

"The process for selecting the leadership of the Garden Hill First Nation is based on Garden Hill's customary laws and procedures which were practised before the Indian Act and which continue to be practised to this day," said Harper in a press release clarifying that MKO had no role in the Garden Hill First Nation election. "MKO respects the customary laws and traditional practices of the MKO First Nations.

MKO is a political advocacy organization that has represented First Nations communities in Northern Manitoba since 1981.

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