By Chevi Rabbit
For Ponoka news
Shay Yellowbird was reinstated as a Samson Cree Nation (SCN) councillor after a lengthy eight-month judicial review process. His virtual inauguration was held on March 22, 2021.
The first-time councillor says he’s learned much through the legal process and has a message for youth. He also plans to donate 10 per cent of his salary to a local program.
“Don’t let my bad experience deter you from entering into politics,” said Yellowbird.
“Don’t be afraid to speak up and use your voice.”
Yellowbird’s legal saga started back in August. On August 10, 2020, Yellowbird was removed from office after being elected thirteen days earlier. A by-election was then held on August 18, 2020, which Yellowbird was disbarred from participating in.
Yellowbird says he was notified on August 9, 2020, of the appeal board process. Then he was called into the official appeal board meeting on August 10.
Yellowbird claims there was redacted information in the appeal package he was sent, and also alleges the evidence they were collecting was from his office.
An official response from SCN states, “In line with the Samson Cree Nation Election Law – the Appeal Process was activated when there was a challenge made under Part 4 – Samson Cree Nation Employees, specifically 4.1: ‘will be given a leave of absence without pay pending the final determination of that election’ which was in reference to Mr. Yellowbird specifically.
“The decision of the Election Law breach was the Appeal Board and not determined by Samson Cree Nation chief and council. The Appeal Board was comprised of non-Samson members. The judge stated ‘this translates into respect for the principle of self-government …’”
“When I was told to appear in front of the appeal board, I started asking questions about why they were taking into account this evidence … The appeal board kept on talking about section 4.1 of the SCN election law,” said Yellowbird.
“The way they interpreted section 4.1 of Samson Cree Nation Election Law was to say that I was working. Well, I took a leave of absence without pay. So, I was volunteering my time to help my people,” he said.
“And it was just misconstrued as something else. I had to go to great lengths to speak my truths and clear my name.”
After eight months judicial review Justice Grammond of the Federal Court of Canada gave his decision on March 8, 2021.
The court judgement was that the applicant was validly elected, and the decision of the SCN Appeal Board was quashed.
The by-election held August 8, 2020 was also ruled invalid and costs were awarded to Yellowbird in the amount of $5,000 (inclusive of taxes and disbursements).
“I have nothing against my nation’s election law,” said Yellowbird.
“That’s even how the federal judge interpreted the outcome. His background was in Indigenous law. He wasn’t trying to change anything. He was just reading what was interpreted and going with what the SCN Election Law already stated.”
The statement from SCN went on to say that the next steps will be to ensure Yellowbird transitions into his new role as councillor.
“To ensure all matters are taken into account, the chief and council has appointed an Elders Specific Purpose Committee to review the matter before them and provide recommendations, based on inherent rights, cultural rights, spiritual rights and Treaty rights.”
The Chief and Council provided the mandate to the committee to return to chief and council no later than March 31, 2021 with recommendations on what actions to put in place. Actions could include healing circles involving the chief, council, Yellowbird and others.
On March 22, Yellowbird began the transition process and spoke with SCN council and local Indigenous Elders.
“I talked about learning from this whole process and I look forward to moving on,” he said.
Yellowbird plans to donate 10 per cent of his salary. He was inspired by Montana First Nation leader Reggie Rabbit who also donated 10 per cent of his salary to a local youth initiative.
“Working with the youth the last seven years I realized there was no funding available for 14 year olds for their learner’s and drivers so I’d like to donate to that,” said Yellowbird.
“With PESP our funding only covers 18-plus, and the whole goal would be to get individuals off income assistance by equipping them with the necessary tools to become successful, such as job skills training and educational programs,” he said.
“If we could equip them with those tools sooner so they wouldn’t have to utilize PESP then by all means, we should be working towards that.”