Citizens of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs have their first democratically elected chief and council in more than seven years.
After years of cancelling nomination meetings and elections, the Micmacs’ unelected “chief” Victoria Higgins and council of seven members who lost the last election in 2007 have been ousted.
Richard Getchell was swept into office as chief with a 59 percent majority of the vote in July 12 elections. Peggy Caparotta was elected vice chief. Nine new council members were elected – Norman Bernard, Fred Getchell (Richard Getchell’s brother), Gail Jewel, Dora Dow, Paul Francis, Cheryl Smart, Shannon Hill, Katie Espling, and Richard Silliboy – creating the first full council in years.
The future looks bright for the Micmacs, Getchell said. “It’s good to see we actually followed our process through our elections. I think we have a good council and a good chance to move forward.”
The new chief and council members were sworn into office after a 48–hour period in which voters can challenge the outcome on an election, but they are in a transitional 30-day period before officially taking office on August 12. Meanwhile, Getchell is spending his days in the administrative offices, reviewing the tribe’s infrastructure, finances and day-to-day business. As a former chief who served the community for a single term in the mid-1990s, Getchell is familiar with the administrative work.
“I know the tribe is in a backwards state right now, but there are some wonderful things in the works. The tribe is getting its farm underway, for example, and the infrastructure isn’t as bad as I thought, but it’s not where I’d like to see things. A lot of the issues that will be corrected here in the time to come are basically management issues. At the same time, I don’t want to minimize some of the nice things that have been done,” Getchell said.
Getchell promises to implement a whole new management style – one of transparency and cooperation – with the new council in place. “I think a lot of the problems have been due to a lack of communication between the government and the people and making the people feel welcome and getting over those barriers will certainly be my first step – transparent government – and we’re actually going to seek guidance from the community. That’s a priority for me,” Getchell said.
Micmac elections are supposed to happen every two years, but until now Higgins and her seven council members – all of whom lost the May 2007 election – managed to thwart members’ multiple attempts to hold new elections. An Interior Department Inspector General’s investigation of the scandal-wracked 2007 elections found Higgins was “appointed chief” on August 13, 2006, in a handwritten note from then Chief William Phillips even though the tribe’s bylaws do not provide for such a delegation of authority. The report also notes that BIA’s Regional Director Franklin Keel on the advice of the Micmac’s former attorney Doug Luckerman, backed Higgins, refused to recognize the woman and tribal council members who actually won the election, and did not insist that a new election promised for July 2007 take place.
Not unexpectedly, Higgins tried to challenge the July 12 election by filing a petition with 40 signatures with the tribal clerk, according to several tribal members. “She tried to convince the poll sitters that something was wrong, that people were trying to tell people how to vote,” said the new vice chief Peggy Caparotta. Mary Pinette, the tribal secretary, rejected Higgins’ petition as invalid, Caparotta said.
Blanche Jewell, a former council member who lost her bid for a seat on the council, was upbeat about the future.”We’re all happy. I ran for council only because Victoria looked at me like I shouldn’t have. I have a lawsuit against them (Higgins and the former council) for trying to kick my family off the rolls,” Jewell said. Four days before a petitioned meeting last November to nominate three council members, Higgins notified Jewell that she and 57 members of her family couldn’t vote because of questions about their enrollment. Then Higgins canceled the meeting.
“Rick Getchell helped us in the fight to stay on the rolls. He knows a lot about the laws and he’s a very smart man. I think everything’s going to be fine from now on,” Jewell said.