Disgraced chief in Liard election race

Former Liard First Nation chief Daniel Morris pleaded guilty to assaulting his estranged wife in 2003 and owes his band roughly $250,000.

Former Liard First Nation chief Daniel Morris pleaded guilty to assaulting his estranged wife in 2003 and owes his band roughly $250,000.

Now he wants to be chief again. He’s a candidate in the First Nation’s current election.

Although others have expressed concern about Morris’ return to politics — including aboriginal women’s groups — at least two other candidates are reserved in their criticism of their former chief.

“It will be up to the people on voting day to choose who they’ll support,” said Liard McMillan, who is seeking re-election as chief.

It is up to the community to amend an election law allowing people to run in a  band election if they have not been convicted of a crime in the two years preceding an election, said McMillan.

He is willing to pose that question after the election, he said.

“Many people feel strongly about that and feel (candidates) shouldn’t be allowed to run unless they’re given a full pardon,” said McMillan.

Councillor David Dickson, another chief candidate, was reluctant to comment on Morris entering the race.

“I don’t want to compare anyone to anyone — that would be adversarial,” he said in an interview.

For several years, the RCMP has been investigating the financial dealings of the band under Morris. Currently, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is funding a forensic audit.

Liard, located in the southeast corner of the territory, is one of three Yukon First Nations without a final agreement.

Both McMillan and Dickson are content to focus their campaigns on what they want to accomplish as chief.

After the tumultuous years following Morris’ fall from grace, McMillan focused on rebuilding the First Nation’s reputation, and sought outside help to investigate the band’s financial problems.

He wants to continue building on his accomplishments and is telling voters “now is not the time for change.”

Economic development and improving infrastructure is the focus, he said.

The First Nation just bought three hotels in Watson Lake.

More training opportunities through the band’s development corporation are needed, he said.

And a resource-sharing accord that Liard and other Kaska First Nations drafted this spring must be finalized, he said.

He cites the development of a cultural and meeting space at Two Mile Lake — there’s almost $750,000 set aside for project planning — as one accomplishment.

“There were huge commitments made and kept to better the Kaska Nation,” said McMillan.

“We’re working extremely hard to make things better — and they are. We’ll stay the course.”

Securing a deal under the Umbrella Final Agreement is not something that interests him or the First Nation, said McMillan.

“We’ve heard the message from our citizens that they don’t want anything to do with final agreements,” he said.

“Our people are more interested in retaining our traditional land through other means, like co-operative agreements with the territory.”

Liard’s citizens need more traditional culture than is currently offered, said Dickson.

The importance of the traditional values and way of life would influence his leadership philosophy.

“I like (McMillan), but his leadership style is different than mine,” he said. “I’m a traditional person and that’s what I bring forward.”

Dickson did not offer many details on what he wants to accomplish if elected, but said, while economic development has brought his people opportunity, there is another side of life people are forgetting.

“Economic development is for people, but we can’t forget our way of life,” he said. “What happens when the development stops? We need subsistence hunting.”

Projects like the Two Mile Lake building are positive steps to introducing more culture in the community, as is the band’s acquisition of a trapline to teach children that skill.

Alternatives are needed to keep his community healthy, he said.

“Our children are being led down an academic path and it’s not always the way to go.

“We need to lead them to hunting and trapping so if they don’t pass Grade 12, they can still lead a constructive Kaska life.”

A third candidate, Peter Stone, could not be reached for comment.