Many First Nations require members to live on reserve to run for council. However, some people think this should change. One of those people is Robert Houle, from Swan River First Nation, who is studying to be a lawyer at Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law (TRU Law) in Kamloops, BC.
In 2023, a paper he wrote called Residency, Discrimination and Self-Government in First Nations Communities and Canadian Jurisprudence won third place in a North America-wide competition for law school students. This was in the Sovereignty Symposium XXXV Writing Competition. The Symposium was in Oklahoma.
In an email, Houle’s law instructor Murray Sholty describes the paper as “focused on the ongoing discrimination faced by off-reserve members of First Nations when it pertains to holding elected office.”
The paper outlines and analyzes the requirement for members to live on reserve to run for office.
“It continues to be a problem, especially in the western provinces,” says Houle. He traces it back to the Indian Act and calls the practice “archaic.”
“It doesn’t really reflect our Indigenous traditions,” he adds. “In traditional ways of life, we were moving around a lot.”
Houle also points out that many First Nations members do not live on reserve, so it excludes many members.
He has a personal connection with the topic.
“I’ve been involved with a federal case with my First Nation since 2019,” says Houle.
He is using the court system to try to gain the right to run for council.
“I grew up in Kinuso and Slave Lake, on and off reserve,” he says.
As an adult, Houle lived in Edmonton for about a decade, including doing a bachelor of arts in psychology and Native studies. The law suit was part of the reason he decided to go to law school.
Houle wrote the paper for Sholty’s class on First Nations government and economic development. Sholty and another professor encouraged him to enter the contest.
“I think, he touched on something that’s quite important,” says Sholty. “I think we’re going to see more litigation,” people suing their bands to be allowed to run for office.
Houle is honoured to be a finalist, he says. He takes the recognition as confirmation that residency requirements are important topics in Indigenous law and the “content was correct,” so First Nation governments should reconsider their policies.
by Pearl Lorentzen