OTTAWA — Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is encouraging Indigenous communities gearing up for elections this year to postpone their votes.
Miller says holding an election during a pandemic poses public health risks, as Canadians are being asked to distance themselves from each other and avoid large groups wherever possible.
A number of First Nations and Metis nations have elections scheduled in 2020.
Miller says the federal government does not recommend going ahead with any elections at this time, out of concern for community members' well-being.
But Ottawa does not have the authority to extend the terms for any chiefs and councillors who are currently in office, so any decision to postpone or go ahead with an upcoming election must come from the communities or nations themselves.
The Metis National Council chose this week to postpone its upcoming election due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vice-president David Chartrand says a special assembly and elections had been planned for April, but now neither will go ahead.
"There's no way we can have that type of election in April," he said.
Miller says he knows this could pose challenges for communities who may have elections coming up in the coming weeks or months.
"Indigenous Services Canada has been in direct communication with communities facing these decisions and we are working together to maximize continuity and minimize disruption so that leadership can continue to focus on the health and well-being of their community members," said Miller's press secretary Vanessa Adams.
If some communities decide to go ahead with a scheduled election, Indigenous Services Canada is willing to provide advice on measures to limit the risks to community members, Adams added.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2020.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press