With the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation election looming a week from today, one thing is clear: the elected chief likely won’t be new to the job. Two of the three candidates have held the post before.
Incumbent candidate Eddie Skookum has been the Little Salmon/Carmacks chief for the past 16 years but challenger Eric Fairclough has no shortage of political experience either.
Fairclough was chief himself from 1990 to 1996. From there he went on to become a territorial MLA, a post he held until 2011.
Experience as the community’s top elected official isn’t the only thing that the two candidates share.
Both said that housing is the most challenging issue facing their community.
“We have decent housing, it’s just that it’s inadequate because we don’t have enough. We have a long list of people that have applied for homes,” said Fairclough.
Skookum said the community has seen a dramatic population increase in recent years, especially in the numbers of people aged 20 to 35 who are looking for affordable homes for their young families.
Fairclough’s plan is to focus on renovations and new buildings, and to pull money from other departments to do it.
“We need to be putting more resources into housing – building new ones and renovating existing ones to bring them up to livable standards,” said Fairclough.
Skookum said the issue of housing is tied to larger infrastructure challenges in the community, and pointed to recent successes as models.
“We have completed our new health and social building and the daycare is slowly paying us back for all the costs. It’s a very nice and beautiful building. I just want to make sure (our strategy) is based on the good work that we’ve been doing over the past couple years,” said Skookum.
Skookum’s other big concern is alcohol and drug treatment, and the community’s need for healing. He said he would pressure the territorial government to work more closely with his and other First Nations and make better use of local resources instead of relying on the Jackson Lake treatment centre.
In 2010 Skookum came under fire after he was charged with assaulting his partner and impaired driving. Members of the community called for him to step down but he resisted. At a special general assembly held in February this year, community members voted 109 to 40 in favour of keeping him as chief.
Skookum said at the time that the attempt to unseat him was unconstitutional.
“We’re taking steps to make sure that everything is followed under our constitution. You can’t just override anything,” he said this week, adding that the community’s unity is critical, especially if the territory’s First Nations are gearing up for a court battle over the Peel.
Fairclough said he sees the potential to capitalize on industrial development in the Carmacks area as his community’s biggest potential boon.
“We are faced with, potentially, a big number of developments taking place near our community. They could tremendously change our community,” he said.
“The Casino mine is a big one. The Casino road will be as big as the Klondike Highway,” he said, adding that balancing economic development and environmental sustainability will be important.
The election takes place Wednesday, Nov. 21. Polls are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Yukon Inn in Whitehorse and the Heritage Hall in Carmacks.
Michael Cashin, the third candidate for chief, declined to comment for this story.
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