The Carcross/Tagish First Nation has elected a chief for the first time in nearly a decade.
Danny Cresswell, who was the Tlingit group’s deputy chief upon entering the campaign, took the top spot by a wide margin on May 25.
Cresswell scooped 178 votes, 114 more than the next closest candidate, Eileen Wally, who took 64 votes. Donnie Smith rounded out the top with 38 votes followed by Stanley Jim Jr. with 27, George Shephard with 14 and Shirley Beattie with 9 votes.
With 696 electors on the list, those tallies bring the voter turnout for the self-governing First Nation to just under 50 per cent, said chief returning officer Bonnie Barber.
“On polling day everything went smoothly,” she said. “But up until then there was a racket.”
Cresswell has acted as the First Nation’s interim leader since his predecessor, Mark Wedge, finished his term in November. Critics alleged he had access to more elector information than the other five candidates.
“That was simply untrue,” said Barber. “He didn’t. They all only had the information that I gave them. And there was no door-to-door campaigning.”
There were other complications leading up to polling day. For example, one six-year-old member in Whitehorse received a mail-in ballot.
“That’s what happens when you count on a computer,” said Barber with a chuckle. No birthday was entered in for the member, so the computer automatically counted him as an elector.
“It’s happened before,” added Barber. “It was not a big kerfuffle.”
Under self-government, the First Nation did away with the electoral structure imposed by the Indian Act, opting instead for a more traditional process, which recognizes its clan system.
Through that process, six clan leaders appointed the chief, or Kha Shade Heni, as the position is called.
The clans range in size from six to more than 300 members, but each has an equal say on the executive council.
However, this system gave no voice to First Nation members without a clan. Avenues to give these people a say on the council were put in place, but there were lots of problems.
That prompted protesters to barricade the aboriginal government’s main administration building in January 2011, locking out workers for two days.
A constitutional review committee was struck. Its members included protesters and First Nation government workers.
It offered several options to the community, which eventually chose to elect the chief, but continue to appoint councillors by clan.
After the resolution to change the constitution was passed, the six clans appointed a new executive council.
Cresswell and Shepherd were the only incumbents. Cresswell was appointed deputy chief by consensus and served in that role until the election.
Cresswell’s win will offer some needed continuity for the First Nation. Negotiations between it and Ottawa over a new financial transfer agreement have stalled, raising fears that that the First Nation may have no money by September.
A new deal is supposed to be negotiated every five years. The last agreement expired on March 2011, and negotiations ended in a stalemate in May of that year.
This federal transfer makes up most of the First Nation’s budget to provide services to its more than 500 members.
As deputy chief, Cresswell was able to negotiate a six-month extension on the previous arrangement after speaking directly to Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the Crown-First Nations gathering in January.
During candidate debates, Cresswell said that securing the financial transfer would be his top priority upon taking office.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at firstname.lastname@example.org