Big River First Nation v Agency of Chiefs Tribal Council Inc, 2020 SKQB 273

The Court allowed the First Nation’s application for an oppression remedy against the incorporated Tribal Council in relation to the First Nation’s notice of an intention to resign membership in the Tribal Council in the future. Among other things, the Court considered a Convention Act enacted by the member First Nations to govern their relationship, which was grounded in traditional Cree values and customs. Likewise, Cree principles of respect, cooperation, consensus, and equal representation informed the First Nation’s reasonable expectations.

Indigenous Law Centre – CaseWatch Blog

Big River First Nation [“BRFN”], brought this application pursuant to the oppression remedy provided under The Non-profit Corporations Act [“NPCA”] for what it alleges is the oppressive conduct of the respondent, Agency Chiefs Tribal Council Inc. [“ACTC”]. ACTC is a non-profit membership corporation under the NPCA, and was created to conduct business and deliver programs to members of the corporation. BRFN, Pelican Lake First Nation and Witchekan Lake First Nation [“Member Nations”] formed a new tribal council in 1991 called the Agency Chiefs Tribal Council [“Tribal Council”]. The Tribal Council was constituted to promote cooperation among the Member Nations and to develop capacity for self-determination.

In 1991, representatives from the Member Nations signed the Agency Chiefs’ Tribal Council Convention Act [“Convention Act”] which contains a number of provisions purporting to govern the relationship between the Member Nations. It is grounded in traditional Cree values and customs and represents the setting down of some of the signatory First Nations’ customs in written form. In 2019, BRFN decided it would take steps to resign from the Tribal Council in order to have exclusive control over its funding, businesses and community services.

The Cree custom or law upon which the Convention Act is derived must inform the Court’s interpretation of the NPCA, as well as the parties’ reasonable expectations relevant to this application. Courts have recognized the existence of a rule of Indigenous law when it is shown that it reflects the broad consensus of the membership of a First Nation (Whalen v Fort McMurray No 468 First Nation, [2019] 4 FCR 217 (FC)). It is uncontroverted that the Convention Act is based in traditional Cree custom and that members of the Member Nations collectively developed and drafted the document

ACTC takes the position that BRFN’s resignation from ACTC was effective on the date it received notice of a first resignation in the form of a BRFN Band Council Resolution, as two resignations similar in wording were sent, one before and one after a BRFN Chief and Council election. It is ACTC’s view that BRFN is not entitled to make its resignation from membership in ACTC subject to conditions. Consequently, ACTC has filed a Notice of Change of Directors with Information Services Corporation, and removed BRFN’s two representatives from ACTC’s board of directors.

Section 5 of the Convention Act provides that before a Member Nations can withdraw from the Tribal Council, the Member Nations must hold a referendum on withdrawal and receive approval from the membership of the Member Nations, after which the Member Nations may pass a band council resolution. The withdrawal of membership from the Tribal Council is therefore conditional upon the majority support of the Member Nations’ community. BRFN is entitled to make its resignation from ACTC conditional and effective when conditions are met. This is clear because a resignation can be effective at a date in the future specified by the party tendering the resignation (Morin v Saskatchewan (Métis Nation Legislative Assembly), 2020 SKQB 63).

It is the Court’s determination that BRFN did not resign its membership in ACTC when it issued either of its resignations as BRFN’s resignation is properly subject to conditions and its resignation is not effective until those conditions are met. ACTC engaged in oppressive conduct when it treated BRFN’s notice that it would resign its membership in the future as an immediate resignation. It also engaged in oppressive conduct when it unilaterally removed BRFN’s directors from its board. BRFN had not intended to give up its portion of control of ACTC until it had appropriate measures in place to protect funding for its members, businesses and community services. Among other relief, ACTC shall amend its corporate records to restore BRFN’s membership in the corporation and shall replace two of its current directors with named BRFN directors. This will put BRFN in a fair position to negotiate the consequences of its future resignation from ACTC.

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