Bruce Charlie has been elected chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow.
The First Nation’s citizens went to the polls on Monday. According to unofficial election results posted on the First Nation’s website, Charlie was elected with 78 votes, giving him a sizable lead over Howard Linklater, Stanley Njootli Sr. and Tracy Rispin, who received 43, 42 and 41 votes, respectively.
Paul Josie, Dana Tizya-Tramm and Margaret Smith were acclaimed as councillors.
Charlie moved back to Old Crow in March, after having lived for 18 years in Whitehorse to raise his two children.
“The people, they want a good government. And I can give them that, I know I can give them that,” Charlie told the News in Old Crow last Friday. “That’s why I wanted to come back to be the leader.”
This election was called after about 40 Vuntut Gwitchin members signed a petition to have the former chief and council ousted in February. The petition referred to a “loss of confidence and good standing” in the First Nation’s leadership.
David Frost, the resident who circulated the petition, said at the time that it had nothing to do with a sexual assault charge filed against former chief Roger Kyikavichik in December.
Charlie said his first priority will be to rebuild the government. “It’s been falling,” he said. “It collapsed last year.”
He said that after the former chief and council decided to step down, the administration essentially stopped working.
“If you go around here right now, there’s no directors, there’s no managers,” he said. “There’s people in social programs that were here that need to be there because members need counselling. People need everyday help in their lives. Well, there’s no one to see.”
Charlie said that budgeting has also been a challenge for the First Nation this year, because there’s been no director of finance in place.
He said the new government will have to do a lot of hiring to get those positions filled again.
“We know we haven’t been working together. We have to do that – it’s time,” he said. “This is the time they have to work together or else we’re going to keep collapsing.”
Charlie said health care and housing are also priorities for him. Living in an isolated community, he said, Old Crow residents often don’t have easy access to good health care.
“Our young people are pressured to challenge alcohol and drugs and of course those two issues … come with a lot of health problems if they’re not careful,” he said.
He also said that many elders are living in inadequate housing in the community.
Charlie said people want more accountability from their government, and he will work “to rebuild, to restructure, and to get the community working together again.” Though he lived in Whitehorse for many years, he said he’s kept up with all the local issues.
“It’s my community. I was born here, I was raised here. My great-grandparents, my grandparents, my parents’ family were here. This is our way of life,” he said. “It has to be protected, it has to go on. I think for the last 20 years, our traditional way of life has been suffering.
“And people do deserve a good life. They deserve better than what they have right now.”
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