More turmoil with PIB
An ugly scene played out Wednesday at the Penticton Indian Band community hall as a nomination meeting to fill five vacancies on council revealed a sharp divide among members about the legitimacy of their current elected leaders.
The three-hour meeting, attended by about 100 people, never turned violent, but was interrupted frequently by shouting, accusations and attempts to bring proceedings to a halt.
Ten people were eventually nominated to fill the seats on council, which were emptied by resignations, but third-party electoral officer Julia Buck acknowledged the process was conducted under protest.
Band administration did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The community is divided roughly into two groups, both of which claim various versions of the band’s custom election code, past practices and legal opinions prove they’re right.
One side is calling for a fresh election to replace Chief Chad Eneas and three councillors – all of whom were voted into office last fall and were not in attendance Wednesday – because they do not constitute a quorum and do not enjoy the confidence of the community.
“We don’t even have a chief and council today,” Pierre Kruger told the meeting. “We have a collapsed government.”
The other side believes council does indeed have a quorum and a mandate to govern. They want the five vacancies filled so council can get on with the business of running the community.
“When we elected the council and the chief last fall, they were elected in by the majority, and the ones that decided to stay have been elected by all of us,” said Jeanette Armstrong, who criticized opponents for obstructing two previous meetings.
Adding to the intrigue is the replacement of long-time electoral officer Valerie Baptiste with Buck, the third-party contractor.
Baptiste told the meeting she was dismissed by council ostensibly due to an anonymous complaint letter about her impartiality, but she believes she was actually dumped because she told council a new election is required because a quorum was lost.
She also suggested that just as the people voted her into the job of electoral officer, it’s up to the people, not council, to get rid of her.
“If they vote to remove me, I step aside,” said Baptiste, who later declared the meeting illegal and left before it ended.
Besides the debate about chief and council’s mandate, Wednesday’s meeting was also marred by what appeared to be a flawed nomination process, which deviated significantly from instructions that were passed out at the start of the evening.
Unheeded were requirements that nominations be made verbally and accepted by a show of hands, while the reading of the voters’ list, meant to ensure accuracy, was impossible to hear as the room had descended into arguments and side conversations.
Former two-term chief Jonathan Kruger, who resigned one of the five vacant council seats, said afterwards the meeting was unlike anything he’d ever seen in the community.
And former councillors Pierre Kruger and Dolly Kruger indicated afterwards they will be seeking a court injunction to have the nominations declared invalid.
Dolly Kruger has also sent a letter on behalf of herself and 117 others asking Indigenous and Affairs and Northern Development Canada to intervene in the matter.
INAC did not respond to a request for comment by press deadline Thursday.
Valerie Baptiste, the recently deposed electoral officer for the Penticton Indian Band, speaks at a community meeting Wednesday night.