It was a long night for Penticton Indian Band communications officer Dawn Russel (seated, left) and contractor electoral officer Julia Buck (seated, right), who oversaw the nominations process Wednesday evening. Behind them, a sign asks whether band members have confidence in the current chief and council. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Emotional PIB meeting ends with 10 disputed nominees

Nomination process completed after three hours, but some abstained, calling it an ‘illegal’ process

An emotional, three-hour meeting in the Penticton Indian Band community hall Wednesday night saw nominations of 10 candidates for council, though some abstained from the process, calling it “illegal.”

In a rare move, members of the media were allowed into Wednesday night’s band meeting, which was intended to see the nomination of candidates looking to replace five resigned councillors, giving a glimpse at the inner processes of PIB politics.

But that was, to some degree, obscured by a clash in the PIB hall, as a seemingly even-split crowd of around 100 members sought to determine who was the rightful electoral officer — the contracted third party Julia Buck, or the electoral officer of 34 years Valerie Baptiste.

Related: PIB needs to ‘do some healing’: Kruger

Baptiste was elected the officer last election, but in an effort to seek impartiality was given the slip by the band, which then hired Buck for the process.

“If we are going to follow a process, then I think you have to acknowledge that democratically, Val’s position was terminated wrongfully,” said one man, noting the democratically elected electoral officer was stripped of the title unilaterally by chief and council.

That was the position of many people in the room, many of whom also sided with a proposed referendum on a chief and council recall, a call made by Baptiste prior to her termination from the position, after the last two councillors resigned.

The question of whether the current chief and council hold quorum — the legal minimum number of elected officials to form government — was a big part of that call for a recall vote, and part of Baptiste’s original declaration for a new election.

Related: PIB claims no basis for recall

But supporters of Chief Chad Eneas countered that as electoral officer, Baptiste only had authority to oversee processes, not declare a new election.

They also pointed to legal opinions the PIB sought and made public last month in a fiery news release, which supported the position of chief and council and its claim to quorum and denied any legal basis for a recall vote.

Though the question of a recall vote hovered in the background for most of the night, the notion of which was verbalized only a few times. For most of the meeting, the question of Buck’s legitimacy as an electoral officer.

In fact, an offer was made to Baptiste, which would allow her to sit at Buck’s side as a co-officer, which she declined, citing personal beliefs.

Related: Penticton Indian Band sues former chief, councillors

Meanwhile, supporters of Eneas accused supporters of former chief Jonathan Kruger and several former councillors of holding up a meeting that was never intended to discuss a recall vote, but rather to determine the candidates for the upcoming byelection.

“We felt disrespected when the nomination meeting was shut down. We were disrespected when we were told they want the whole council re-elected,” Jeannette Armstrong said.

That was echoed by a PIB staff, who asked not to be named due to the person’s position with the band.

“Those who continuously say ‘the people, the people need to speak,’ those people do not speak for me, and they shouldn’t be speaking for anybody else,” the PIB staffer said.

“The current chief and council that are in right now, they’re doing an amazing job. I think you have to understand politics to be able to understand and realize that they’re doing a good thing. … As an employee, I’m seeing the change for the good.”

Related: Non-confidence issue freezes PIB meeting

While the notion of a non-confidence motion only recently came to light publicly, it was indicated in the meeting that a motion was put forth in February, only a few months after chief and council were elected.

Wednesday night’s meeting saw ebbs and flows of distractions — one speaker would hold the floor for several minutes, and at times get applause from the entire room. Some could make the crowd laugh, while at other times there were several people speaking at the same time in raised voices and harsh tones.

As communications officer Dawn Russell read out the list of eligible voters in the byelection, a process that took several minutes, bickering continued. Nomination forms were filled and signed and handed to Buck.

But some participants declared the nomination process to be illegal, during a reading of all of the candidates and their nominators. Opposers to the process abstained and Buck noted the process was done under protest.

Buck said her next move is to send out mail-in ballots, and allow the band to determine whether she is still needed to be part of the election process.

Of the four remaining members of chief and council, just Coun. Elliot Tonasket was at the meeting.

Related: Chief responds to council resignations


@dustinrgodfrey

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