Not easy to follow will of the people
Editorial Comment - Inuvik Drum
As a two-day assembly stretched into three-and-a-half days, it became clear the leadership of the Gwich'in Tribal Council has their work cut out for them.
For various reasons, it was obvious the delegates and spectators weren't in a mood to brook anything but frank and honest dialogue from their leaders.
That's a refreshing change, since leaders need frequent and strong challenges to keep them focused, but on at least one issue the wrangling between the delegates and the executive has likely created a headache that strikes at the core of their government system.
That issue is voting rights for Gwich'in everywhere.
Following community consultations in 2013, the Gwich'in leadership introduced a bylaw amendment for permanent residents in the Gwich'in Settlement Area to retain full voting rights. Non-resident Gwich'in members would have been allowed the right only to vote for president and vice-president of the GTC.
The rationale for the move was that Gwich'in living full-time in the four communities within the settlement area (Inuvik, Aklavik, Tsiigehtchic and Fort McPherson) should have more say in the day-to-day governance of their home communities. On the face of it, that's not an unreasonable proposition. What makes it tricky political ground is that the concept came from the grassroots of the communities, not from the leadership.
The delegates at the conference weren’t happy with the idea. Their arguments were varied and nuanced. At the heart of their unease was a belief they should not be stripping away, even partially, the time-honoured franchise right to vote.
Since more than half of registered Gwich'in members aren't permanent residents, it's a more complicated question. No organization operating under any kind of democratic tradition should revoke full voting rights for more than 50 per cent of its members with a clear conscience.
On the other hand, when they rejected the community-consensus request for the two levels of voting rights, the delegates weren't respecting the will of the people who showed up to the community consultations.
One would think they are going to have some explaining to do to their community. That leaves everyone in a most uncomfortable position. I tend to believe elected representatives should be a delegate of public will. Unless what it demands is particularly odious, representatives should hold their noses and follow public opinion.
This is a situation that is clearly on the boundary of that ethical dilemma, and it's going to be very interesting to watch how it is settled.
I don't envy anyone involved in sorting this out. There will be no winners, only more headaches.