The federal government's attempt to recast Native political practices in the image of non-Native systems was a major factor in the St. Regis election dispute that erupted in 1889. The conflict involved those residents of the St. Regis reserve (located in eastern Ontario) who supported the traditional hereditary system of selecting chiefs and their opponents who advocated the newly imposed elective system. The problem emerged in 1889 with the removal of three chiefs by Order-in-Council after complaints by band members of misappropriation of funds. This provided an opportunity to introduce the recently devised elective system to the reserve.

The change did not resolve the internal problems that had precipitated it, however, and scandal erupted in 1891 when the five chiefs elected under the new regulations were found guilty of distributing liquor to buy votes. That election was disallowed and a new one held in 1891. More legal improprieties, this time over the improper leasing of land, dogged two new chiefs.

St. Regis residents disliked the disharmony and conflict that the elective system seemed to breed and requested a return to their traditional system, which, they believed, fostered harmony and peace rather than dissension. Their request was denied, but three further elections in 1898 and 1899 also failed to establish order. The first successful application of the elective system came only in 1908, an indication of the diminishing influence of hereditary chiefs and those who supported them.

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Chinook Multimedia

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