Norma Kassi beat Garry Njootli for chief of the Vuntut Gwich’in in November. Now Njootli will square off against Kassi’s son, incumbent MLA Darius Elias, in the territorial election.
“Darrell Pasloski, he’s the one that recruited me,” said Njootli from his Dawson City layover en route to Old Crow Thursday. “I guess people were talking to him about me, telling him, ‘If you want to meet anyone from Old Crow, this is the person to meet.’ So we had coffee.”
The 42-year-old father of four has been living outside of Old Crow since 1999, when he was offered an internship, under the Yukon Party government, to work in the territory’s Heritage department.
But his support within the Yukon’s northernmost, remote community has stayed strong, he said.
“I have to do a lot more work on the people outside of the community,” he said, noting he lost the chief’s job by a fraction of votes – 25.
“That’s where I lost my votes, was to Whitehorse. I beat Norma Kassi in the election in Old Crow.”
In the territorial election, the only thing that matters is support in the riding, said Elias.
“Nobody can vote for me in Whitehorse,” he said from Old Crow on Thursday. “As far as I am concerned, this is in the peoples’ hands, the people that live here. And it’s 90 per cent Vuntut Gwitch’in citizens.”
Elias knows politics. His mother, now chief, was the community’s New Democrat MLA from 1985 to 1992 and, if re-elected, this would be Elias’ second term under the Liberal banner.
He is confident in his advantage as incumbent, listing items of “unfinished business,” like changes to the food-mail program, things he has accomplished, like repairs to the community’s water system and things he already knows he wants to work on in the future, like helping local businesses and building an elders’ care facility and community service centre for recreation, community gatherings and day care.
Njootli’s focus centres around motivating the community’s youth to participate in the society around them, he said.
“They’re our future leaders and we have to give them that extra push to get them up to date on the topics of the VGFN and the Yukon, so they can be focused when it’s their time to step up to the plate,” he said.
Like his competitor, Njootli comes from a political family.
His uncle, Grafton Njootli, served as Progressive Conservative MLA from 1978 to 1982.
But in the tightknit community, party politics doesn’t really matter.
“In my experience, the community members vote 80 per cent for the actual person,” said Elias. “Party politics was imposed on this community.”
Still, Elias stands by his belief the Liberal party, under leader Arthur Mitchell, is the best to represent his home community and the territory at large.
Mitchell was the first Yukon leader to pay his own way to Washington to speak about protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the calving grounds for the community’s beloved Porcupine caribou, which is threatened by oil developments, said Elias.
Having to board the plane again for the last leg to Old Crow, Njootli, daughter in tow, said he wouldn’t have agreed to put his name forward without talking to his family first.
“I talked to my people, my family, my aunties and uncles and cousins and they told me just to go for it because it was an opportunity. Because I didn’t go to them (the Yukon Party), they came to me.”
The Yukon Party announced five more candidates on Friday morning.
Economic Development Minister Jim Kenyon is out. He lost the nomination for Porter Creek North to city councillor Doug Graham.
Carmacks’ Mayor Elaine Wyatt was nominated to represent Mayo-Tatchun, beating Loralee Johnstone.
Gerrard Fleming took the Mt. Lorne-South riding over Deborah Fulmer. Fleming is chair of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce and works for Northwestel.
Patti McLeod was nominated over Howard Fick to represent Watson Lake.
And Wade Istchenko beat Mike Crawshay in Kluane. There, more than 480 memberships were sold, boosting the party’s list to more than 2,800, or nearly 10 times what it was less than a year ago, said Yukon Party officials in a release.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at email@example.com