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Election Transitions

As a former CAO of a large BC First Nation, I had to prepare for regular leadership elections. Elections are a sensitive time for any public service – Indigenous or not. They are almost always disruptive and can slow momentum for important initiatives. What can you do to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible?

Everyone wants calm waters through an election transition. Heiltsuk Territory.

Here are some ideas:

  • Have a transition plan. Don’t just leave leadership transitions to chance. It’s important to help Council define their sense of direction and purpose.

  • Schedule the swearing in ceremony and your first few Council meetings soon after so you can support Council to move quickly into their leadership role. You might consider scheduling a one-day “Council Roles and Responsibilities” workshop/refresher.

  • Schedule meetings for your new leaders with significant partners including funders, local political representatives, the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, and the most significant companies operating in your territory.

  • Prepare briefing binders for each member of Council. Each binder should include: relevant legislation like the Indian Act, Council governance policy, your strategic plan, map of your territory and any management plans developed for the territory. Include any significant government-to-government agreements or impact-benefit agreements.

  • Also include financial information in the package including last years financial statements and the most recent year-to-date financial statements that are available.

  • Each briefing binder should include a report from the CAO and each senior manager outlining a) their program responsibility b) any significant policies they follow (either your own policy or external policy of funders) c) any significant commitments they have for the year or longer d) any current negotiations that are underway now which will require council agreement e) any other significant or pressing issues that the leadership group needs to be aware of. These senior manager reports should not be longer than 5 pages each.

  • Prepare separate briefing binders for the companies and joint ventures. This should be along the same format as the administration briefing binders but focused on all of the businesses, assets, and liabilities of the corporations. Include a list of the directors of the corporations.

Transitions are important. Make sure you have a plan. Southern Dakelh Territory.
  • Prepare separate binders for significant non-profit organizations/agencies you control or are represented on. Same thing as before: who is on the board, what is the financial situation, what significant obligations or contracts exists, what are the most pressing issues.

  • Draft a short email to your new council. Inform them briefing binders will be prepared for them. Let them know the schedule of the first Council meetings and the information you are preparing for them. Emphasize the desire to have open communication and to work as a team.

These are only some suggestions. Each Indigenous Nation has its own unique governance structures, traditions, policies, and practices. What’s important is to make the transition as smooth as possible and ensure there is continuity in your government. A little planning and preparation can go a long way in this regard.


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