Barr strikes a new chord

Kevin Barr's campaign headquarters is a small, converted garage on the corner of Third Avenue and Lowe Street. It still has posters on the walls from when it served as the campaign office for Whitehorse-centre MLA Liz Hanson.

Kevin Barr’s campaign headquarters is a small, converted garage on the corner of Third Avenue and Lowe Street.

It still has posters on the walls from when it served as the campaign office for Whitehorse-centre MLA Liz Hanson.

There are three people there on Thursday afternoon.

A man and woman are attaching garden stakes to signs in the back and another woman is on the phone.

She is talking with someone from White River First Nation.

Barr will be heading out there this weekend.

On the wall behind her is a poster bearing Raymond Silverfox’s face and the words, “We remember.”

She tells the person on the other end of the line that Barr is First Nation.

But even he can’t really tell you his precise ancestry.

His mother’s side has Ojibwa in it. And his great-great-grandfather was not considered a human being by Canada’s early government until he got a European wife, he said.

Some of that hasn’t changed –

Ottawa continues to count and measure peoples’ varying degrees of “nativeness,” said Barr.

“Am I full blood? No, I’m not full blood,” he said, jutting out his arms, palms up, from his raised shoulders while sitting on a bench on the corner of Main Street and Third Avenue. “Look at me. I’m not.”

But Barr has been traditionally adopted into the Carcross/Tagish First Nations and chooses to practise his aboriginal beliefs and spiritualism – things he learned primarily from Yukon’s First Nations, he said.

And there is one thing Barr does know for sure, Yukon’s Aboriginal Peoples can be confident he is an advocate for them, he said.

A vote for Barr will offer the return of a strong voice for the Yukon people, he said.

“Especially for the marginalized people,” he said, mentioning the need to honour First Nations’ agreements and the environment.

Mining could be more respectful, especially in the amount of money it leaves in the territory, he said.

More local wages, training, and a better royalty rate on gold is a place to start, he said.

“We need to protect what we do have here, and look at diversifying our economy to more than just mining and tourism,” he said. “We are creating more filmmakers. We could have a whole faculty around green development and research here.”

In the spirit of education week, Barr has also called to lower tuition fees, raise subsidies to aboriginal, low-income and disabled students and expand programming at Yukon College.

He was also one of the first Yukon candidates to bring up the issue of housing.

In an April 5 press release, he lauded the New Democrat’s “red tents” Bill C-304, that came from Vancouver East’s MP Libby Davies in 2010.

The private members bill proposes a 10-year national housing strategy. At the beginning of March, the bill narrowly passed committee, supported by all three opposition parties but opposed by the Harper government.

Before the writ was dropped, it was heading back to Parliament for final reading.

Barr knows many Yukoners that couch surf in the winter and live in tents in the summer, he said.

“It’s been going on for years,” he said. “And it’s getting worse, not better.”

The territory needs affordable housing, rental units, shelters and seniors’ housing, he said.

The Carcross/Tagish First Nations have been contemplating building prefab houses, which would create jobs, educate and train members and give others a place to live, he said.

But it is still just an idea, he said.

Barr’s been homeless.

He remembers begging on the street at 17, with a pregnant girlfriend, he said.

He got into drugs and alcohol and remembers waking up in jail, he said, adding he never paid a $300 fine for impaired driving.

“Coming to the Yukon is where I decided to make a stand,” he said. “People treated me like a human being. Not that they didn’t before, but I could finally hear it. I was young, and how can you learn anything when you know it all?”

This June will mark 24 years clean for Barr, who counsels people one-on-one and in groups.

That is why he may seem to be coming late out of the gate in this territorial race.

He was hired to facilitate an aboriginal-focused wellness program at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. It ended last Thursday.

And Barr will continue to commit a couple of hours a day to his one-on-one clients.

But aside from that, the campaign is now his main priority, he said.

Even his bed-and-breakfast is closed, save from close friends who “know what to do,” he said.

“When I decide to do something, that’s my commitment,” he said, noting he turned down offers to perform in Nashville to campaign.

“I honour my commitments and I know my priorities.”

A win will change the local musician’s life, he said.

But just because he’s not singing songs in the Yukon, it doesn’t mean no one will, he said, smiling.

“Life is change,” he said.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at