Fact Sheet - Understanding First Nation Elections

First Nations governments are formed by a chief and councillors who are responsible for making decisions on behalf of the First Nation and its members.

The election of a chief and councillors can be held in one of three ways: by following the steps outlined in the Indian Act and the Indian Band Election Regulations by following the First Nation's own leadership selection process under a community or custom election code pursuant to a community's constitution contained in a self-government agreement

Currently, of the 617 First Nations in Canada, 238 hold elections under the Indian Act and the Indian Band Election Regulations, 343 select their leadership according to their own community or custom election codes and 36 are self-governing.

Elections under the Indian Act

All First Nations who hold their elections under the Indian Act are subject to the same rules and eligibility requirements, and hold elections every two years.

Some highlights of a typical election under the Indian Act include:the appointment of an electoral officer (which must be approved by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development) to manage the overall election process and all related activities;the holding of a meeting where electors can nominate candidates for the chief and councillor positions voting, done in person on reserve and by mail-in ballot the counting of the votes and declaration of elected candidates

Unlike custom code elections, where Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) has no role in the process, the department carries out the following responsibilities in elections under the Indian Act and the Indian Band Election Regulations: training and supporting electoral officers throughout the election to ensure compliance with the election rules approving the First Nation council's choice of electoral officer or appointing the electoral officer when there is no First Nation council in place receiving, investigating and deciding on election appeals

The candidates who receive the highest number of votes are declared elected. Candidates or eligible voters have 45 days following the election to file an appeal with AANDC if they feel that there were: corrupt practices in connection with the election a violation of the Indian Act or the Indian Band Election Regulations that might have affected the results of the election a person running who was not eligible to be a candidate

For detailed information on how an election under the Indian Act and Indian Band Election Regulations unfolds, please consult the Backgrounder: Indian Act Elections on the AANDC website.

Community or Custom Election Codes

Community or custom election codes provide the rules under which chiefs and councillors are chosen for those First Nations who are not under the Indian Act election rules. These codes vary depending on the First Nation and are often unique to the specific community.

AANDC is never involved in the election processes held under community or custom election codes, nor will it interpret, decide on the validity of the process, or resolve election appeals. The department's role is limited to recording the election results transmitted by the First Nation.

When a dispute arises concerning a community or custom election process, it must be resolved in accordance with the related provisions in a community's election code, or by the courts.

For information on the community or custom election code of a specific First Nation, please consult the First Nation directly.

Self-Governing First Nations

Self-governing First Nations do not fall under the purview of the Indian Act. They establish their own laws and policies in a broad range of matters internal to their communities and integral to their cultures and traditions, including leadership selection. Self-governing First Nations elect their leadership through individual election processes which vary depending on the First Nation and are often unique to the specific community.

As with elections held under a community or custom code, AANDC is never involved in the election processes held by self-governing First Nations, nor will it interpret, decide on the validity of the process, or resolve election appeals. The department's role is limited to recording the election results transmitted by the First Nation.

For specific information concerning the election processes of a self-governing First Nation, please consult the First Nation directly.

A Fourth Option: The First Nations Elections Act

The First Nations Elections Act received Royal Assent on April 11, 2014.  This historic piece of legislation was developed collaboratively with First Nations organizations to bring about real improvements to the election processes of First Nations across the country.

This legislation provides a fourth option for leadership selection in First Nations and includes an alternative opt-in legislated election system that improves upon and fills the gaps in the Indian Act system. Regulations are currently being developed to support the new legislation. Once these regulations are in place, First Nations will be able to opt in to this new legislation should they decide that it meets their needs.

For more information on the First Nations Election Act, please consult the Backgrounder on the First Nations Elections Act on AANDC's website.

The numbers appearing above related to First Nations electoral systems were updated on, and are current as of, April 10, 2014.

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