On the eve of Tuesday November 8th, it wasnt just Americans that were taking to the polls. At the Shuswap Indian Band office, more than 120 voters made their way to the polls, re-electing Barbara Cote as the chief of the band along with incumbent councillors Rosalita Pascal and Timothy Eugene.
Im really, really happy because we can continue on with the good work that were doing, Ms. Cote said Wednesday morning. I was so happy, so relieved. I was cautiously optimistic yesterday but you never know and I think our community spoke very loud in the numbers that they like what weve been doing in the last two years and they want us to continue what weve been doing.
By nights end, Ms. Cote was re-elected as chief of the Shuswap Indian Band with 86 of the 316 votes cast with Mr. Eugene coming second with 74 votes and Ms. Pascal finishing third with 50 votes. The next closest candidate for council was Dean Martin who finished with 38 votes in the election.
Ms. Cote first became chief of the Band in 2014, taking over for Paul Sam. One element that has changed under the leadership of Ms. Cote, she said, is their willingness to be clear throughout all their operations.
Everything is very transparent, she said. We do our monthly newsletters, we do our monthly band meetings and people feel that they are part of something now. I think the transparency act helped that a great deal thats just leading us into how we portray ourselves and how we are, as a council, transparent to our membership.
One of the avenues for transparency under the leadership of Ms. Cote has been to hold weekly council meetings that are open to the public to discuss issues and potential developments. Prior to Ms. Cote becoming chief in 2014, she said that there had not been a formal council meeting held in eight years.
Although not under her control, one of the avenues for this increased transparency has been retracted thanks to the recently elected Justin Trudeau Liberal Government. Last December the government announced that they would no longer enforce the compliance measures imposed under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which made public the salaries of First Nations leaders from across the country.
Prior to the 2014 election, the act infamously highlighted the fact that then Shuswap chief Paul Sam, his ex-wife, councilor Alice Sam, and two other family members had received more than $4 million in total remuneration over the past four years.
Ms. Cote said that she still sees a purpose for the Transparency Act to highlight the proper use of tax-payers dollars.
I think theyre [the government] backing away because they didnt properly confer or confirm with the aboriginal governments or people in how to do this, she said. Yes, I believe tax payers dollars need to be accounted for and I think all Canadians should be able to see how were spending that money. But what we make in our own businesses should only be transparent to membership but I dont think it needs to be out there for the world to see.
After two years laying the groundwork for change within the community, Ms. Cote said that community members will begin to see the improvements that she and council are so heavily focused on.
I think the majority of our community members do feel that theres improvement but a lot of it isnt seen yet, she said. Its just been paying the bills and reestablishing those broken relationships with government and local businesses so that has taken time.
I think that in the next two years is where we now get to move forward. Were not fixing the past, were moving forward.
She said they are excited for the gas station development near the crossroads in Invermere along with the possibility of improving their water infrastructure and housing on the reserve.
With another potential election scheduled two years from now, she said they will begin looking into a custom election, moving away from the two-year term that they currently operate under following the Indian Act.
For now, she said shes happy to be getting back to work as the chief of the Shuswap Indian Band.
Seeing the number of votes for the three top nominees was in itself a validation of what were doing right and they want to see more of that, she said.