Williams Lake First Nation Electoral Officer Lisa Camille (left) with Deputy Electoral Officer Maggie Berns.(Rebecca Dyok photo)

B.C. First Nations head to the polls amid pandemic

Elections moving forward in many communities despite coronavirus

The COVID-19 pandemic is not deterring numerous First Nations across B.C. from heading to the polls this year.

Hand sanitizer placed on a table was the first thing to greet T’exelc members (Williams Lake First Nation) entering the Elizabeth Grouse Gymnasium south of Williams Lake to select three councillors for a four-year term on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

Read More: ‘Opportunity’ for election in fall, next spring or summer, B.C. premier says

With voting hours from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., electoral officer Lisa Camille said there are more than 400 registered band members who are eligible to vote.

“We will have the safety measures in place with the two metres,” Camille said, noting there were no concerns in moving forward with the election.

Mail-in ballot packages were made available to anyone living on reserve who may not have been able to vote in-person, and were also sent to off-reserve members.

Read More: Yunesit’in Chief Russell Myers Ross not seeking re-election

West of Williams Lake, members of the Yunesit’in First Nation (Stone) will elect a new chief and two-members of council. Chief Russell Myers-Ross who is not seeking re-election said their election will go ahead on Sept. 9 after having been postponed.

The Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe/Dog Creek) approximately 85 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake will have an election on Oct. 7 at Dog Creek with advance polls on Sept. 29 in Williams Lake and Oct. 1 in Kamloops.

One chief and five councillors will be elected.

Read More: Feds commit $305M in additional funds for Indigenous communities during COVID-19

Noting the public health risks associated with large gatherings, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) said a new temporary option allows First Nations leaders to continue exercising their roles and duties within their communities for up to six months, with the potential to extend for another six months.

“The final decision to hold or postpone an election belongs to the community,” ISC said on the Government of Canada’s webpage. “ISC will support First Nations in whichever option they choose.”

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