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Aboriginal lawyer will represent NDP in the federal election

Melissa Atkinson has been picked to represent the NDP for Yukon in the coming federal election.

Melissa Atkinson has been picked to represent the NDP for Yukon in the coming federal election.

In a tearful speech after her nomination at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre in Whitehorse on Tuesday evening, Atkinson said she hopes to become the first aboriginal member of Parliament for the territory.

“The real hard work is ahead of us as New Democrats,” she said to the standing-room-only crowd. “We are the progressive alternative to a Conservative government.”

Atkinson defeated Andre Bourcier, a linguist and former head of the French school board, in a campaign that attracted 250 new members to the NDP party in 10 days.

Atkinson told the News that the environment, adequate housing, child-care, and the minimum wage are the issues most important to Yukoners in this election campaign.

Atkinson also spoke about Bill S-6, a controversial piece of legislation that will amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act. She said she would fight to repeal the four provisions in the bill that have First Nations threatening to sue the federal government.

“I would be standing behind all Yukoners including First Nation people to look to repeal that,” she told the News.

In her speech, Atkinson said that Bill C-51, the Harper government’s anti-terrorism legislation, must also be repealed.

“It completely restructures our national security laws and threatens our very civil rights,” she said. “This is not the Canada that I want to live in.”

Atkinson was born and raised in Whitehorse, and is a member of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation. She was the Yukon’s first aboriginal Crown prosecutor, and is now a legal aid defence lawyer.

She has also chaired the Yukon Human Rights Commission and has been involved with Blood Ties Four Directions, a support centre for people affected by HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.

Atkinson’s campaign was chaired by Audrey McLaughlin, the former NDP leader and MP for Yukon.

McLaughlin said she backed Atkinson because of her professional career and her work with disadvantaged people.

“I know that she really understands the challenges of a lot of Yukon people through her work,” she said. “She’s really fought for them, and I appreciate that - that she understands the grassroots.”

NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen was also present at the nomination meeting.

Aside from the requisite jabs at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s hair, he spoke about abolishing the Senate and called for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. He also said Canada needs to improve its international reputation on climate change action at international talks in Paris later this year.

Cullen also blamed the Harper government’s resource policies for the current slow-down in the Canadian economy.

“Harper might be the worst enemy the resource sector ever had,” he said.

Atkinson will be campaigning against Conservative incumbent Ryan Leef, former Liberal MP Larry Bagnell, and Green Party candidate Frank de Jong.

The federal election is set to be held on Oct. 19.

Contact Maura Forrest at