In a decision made public today, Gayle Strikes With A Gun has been officially removed from office as Piikani Nation Chief, effective immediately. Clayton Small Legs will continue as acting chief for the time being. He spoke for the council at an official press release earlier today, December 20, 2013. No decision has yet been finalized as to whether or not Piikani council will hold a byelection to replace her.
Strikes With A Gun was elected Chief January 5, 2011, the first woman to hold that office for the Piikani Nation. She ran against 10 other candidates in that election.
On September 5, 2012 a quorum of Piikani councillors met and unanimously decided to suspend Strikes With A Gun for 30 days.
A petition to remove Strikes With A Gun was first circulated on December 18, 2012 and was accepted by council on January 8, 2013.
Arguments back and forth about the legality of the suspension immediately ensued. Strikes With A Gun and her supporters argued that the Indian Act regulations governing such a move were not followed, and that the quorum was not in fact a legal one.
A Blackfoot Nations Removals Appeal Board composed of 4 members was appointed on January 30, 2013. According to Piikani Nations Communications Officer Paula Smith that board was composed of 1 member from each Blackfoot Confederacy tribe, selected by the Piikani Nation CAO.
Strikes With A Gun applied to the Federal Court to stop the Appeals Board hearing. On September 19, 2013 the Federal Court of Canada ordered that an Appeals Board hearing should be held.
From the hearing documents:
“At the commencement of the Formal Proceedings, the Respondent took the position on record that the Appeals Board did not have jurisdiction to hear the matter and invited the Appeals Board to decline jurisdiction and refer the matter to the Federal Court. The matter of jurisdiction was argued at the pre-hearing application held on November 20, 2013 and the Appeals Board rendered its decision on November 22, 2013 stating, inter alia, that the Appeals Board had jurisdiction to hear this matter.”
Councillor Fabian North Peigan officially petitioned that Strikes with a Gun “be declared ineligible to continue to hold office as the Chief ” at a hearing held on November 29. The hearing also heard sworn testimony from Strikes With A Gun and her witness, also her sister, Pam Wolf Tail.
Wolf Tail’s medical transportation/taxi business, Peigan Taxi, played a major role in the unfolding situation. Strikes With A Gun was accused of nepotism, conflict of interest, and interference with managers as a result of her reaction to Health Canada not renewing the contract for medical transportation to Peigan Taxi.
From council documents:
“The Respondent’s sister, Pam Wolf Tail, has run a medical transportation business, known as Peigan Taxi, on the Piikani Nation Reservation for approximately 23 years. Peigan Taxi had a contract with Health Canada to provide the services until approximately 2011. Health Canada did not renew the contract and began providing the Piikani Nation Health Department with a fixed amount for medical transportation that was less than the amount Peigan Taxi had previously received directly from Health Canada. The Piikani Nation and Peigan Taxi attempted to negotiate a contract for these services although a formal contract was never entered into.”
“On August 23,2012 Bridget Kenna, CFo and Acting CEO, called a meeting with the Health Director and Pam Wolf Tail, to discuss Peigan Taxi. Pam Wolf Tail’s husband also attended the meeting. Pam Wolf Tail asked that the Respondent conferenced in on the meeting. Ms. Kenna moved Pam Wolf Tail and her husband into Council Chambers and telephoned the Respondent from her office’ After indicating to the Respondent that she believed it was a conflict of interest Ms. Kenna teleconferenced the Respondent in to the meeting of Pam Wolf Tail, her husband, the Health Director and some Council members in Council Chambers. The Respondent spoke to the Council members and then hung up.”
“Later that day Ms. Kenna received an email from the Respondent which stated: ‘Bridgett, you did not take my directions seriously today and I am very disappointed with regard to my phone call today. I am the Chief ofthe Nation and you do not have the right to tell me that I cannot sit in on this or any meeting. You need to know your place and I will not allow for this to happen. If it happens again, I will dismiss you. So, I am reiterating, I am instructing you to pay Peigan Taxi next week at $9367.00. The taxi contract is NOT going out for bids. I am instructing you to work on a contract with Peigan Taxi immediately. You will also begin to work on releasing Acting Director at the time Lorelai North Peigan immediately due to insubordination. There will be no further discussion on this’.”
“At the end of August 2012 the Health Department prepared a cheque requisition and issued a cheque to Peigan Taxi. Cheques needed to be signed by the Piikani Nation’s co-manager, MNP LLP, and a designated councillor. Ms. Kenna indicated in her affidavit that she signed the cheque requisition and proceeded to obtain the necessary signatures with the intention of not releasing the cheque until the funds were available. At that time-there was not enough money in the account to cover the cheque. MNP LLP signed the cheque, but the designated Councillor refused to sign it.”
“On August 29, 2012 the Respondent directed Ms. Kenna to prepare a letter terminating or suspending the Health Director immediately. Ms. Kenna refused, indicating to the Respondent that she required a quorum of seven Councillors.”
On August 28, 2012 the Council passed the following two motions:
Based on events at the meeting on August 23,2012, the council suspends the chief from all business involving Peigan Taxi as a result of the correspondence, conflict of interest and nepotism.
Chief and Council direct Chief Gayle Strikes With A Gun, shall no longer provide direction to any manager; she requires a quorum of seven to make any Administrative and/or financial decisions.
The hearing documents include a great deal of testimony, including allegations of intimidation and coersion of Piikani Council employees by Strikes With A Gun and Wolf Tail, also including telling Ms. Kenna that she was suspended and had to leave the Piikani Nation administrative building.
On September 14, 2012 council continued Strikes With A Gun’s suspension, claiming she was attempting ‘to chair a meeting of other Piikani Nation business without addressing any issues of her conduct”. That was followed by another alleged disruption of the Administration office and staff by Strikes With A Gun and her supporters on September 17, 2012.
From the hearing documents:
On September 27, 2012 Justice Macleod of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta granted a mandatory injunction prohibiting the Respondent from attending at the Piikani Government premises for the duration of her suspension, ending October 5, 2012 and to otherwise respect and act in accordance with the terms of her suspension.
On December 11, 2013 the Appeals Board came to a decision, which reads in part :
“The Appeals Board has reviewed all the evidence before it and the weight to be given to such evidence. Based on that review as set out above, the Appeals Board finds that the Respondent failed to maintain a standard of conduct expected of a member of the Piikani nation Council, as set out in the Election Bylaws and in keeping with the principles of Piikanissini.”
“The appeals Board finds this conduct of the Respondent to be of such a serious nature that removal from the office of Chief of the Piikani nation is necessary and appropriate.”
“Accordingly, the Appeals Board orders that the Respondent, Chief Gayle Strikes With A Gun be removed as Chief of the Piikani Nation, effective immediately.”
The statement from council also declares the Piikani Nation Chief seat as vacant effective December 12, 2013, because the process has taken a full calendar year.
Strikes With A Gun is reportedly applying to the federal court to overturn the appeal board decision but was unavailable to me for comment at this time.
The citizenry of Piikani Nation remains bitterly divided on this issue. Some spoke with me on the record, and some requested anonymity, citing personal safety as a reason. Nepotism, transparency, and conflicts between Strikes With A Gun and council and administration were most often cited as the reasons citizens wanted to see her removed from office. Others expressed their support for her, saying that nepotism and a behind the scenes power struggle played a major factor in the movement to remove her as Chief. Others bemoan Piikani’s repeated council woes, which stretch back a very long time. “Oh yes, nepotism reigns here,” said citizen Peggy Sommerfeldt.
In talking to close to 20 people in Brocket, some of them in positions of authority, I was surprised to discover how few of them even knew there was an official press conference today, or what it was about beyond rumour.
Piikani citizen Carol Little Moustache was willing to go on record, and expressed her disgust at the whole process. “The people here, we don’t know what the heck is going on. The people are in the dark. We don’t even know what services are available to us. They meet behind closed doors, and when the people come to protest, they have the RCMP escort us out.”
Piikani Council is expected to release more information on the situation soon.
Addendum, December 23, 2013: The Piikani Nation general election will be held January 2015. Piikani Nation council is elected for 4 year terms.
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