Kwanlin Dun First Nation will have a new chief and council by the end of this month.
It is a welcome change, according to many citizens who attended a candidates forum last night.
More than 50 First Nation’s citizens and beneficiaries packed the Na’kwa’ta’Ku Potlatch House for three hours to question a phalanx of politicians.
There are 19 candidates vying for six councillor positions and four men seeking to be chief.
But by the end of the work day Tuesday, the forum had been cancelled and rescheduled three times. No one would explain why.
By Tuesday afternoon, it looked as if no meeting was going to take place.
It was the administration’s executive director Loretta Edzerza who pulled the plug, said Kwanlin Dun governance director Barb Joe.
But chief electoral officer Sheila Smith said it was Joe’s decision.
“The meeting won’t be rescheduled,” said Joe.
“There isn’t enough time.”
The last-minute rescheduling was set only an hour before the forum began.
Cancelling the all-candidates forum is troubling, said Kwanlin Dun capital projects manager Gary Bailie.
“It’s always a good thing for the community to come and ask questions – because there are a lot of questions,” he said.
But not many questions were asked. And few answers were given.
Instead, the microphones held by both citizens and candidates belted out frustrations over the problems in the Yukon’s largest First Nation.
Kwanlin Dun is an amalgamation of many aboriginal people and boasts more than 1,000 members.
The people attending Tuesday night’s meeting listed many problems.
The drug-dealers are well-known. What remains a mystery is why nothing is done about them, said many elders.
The community’s youth and elders are not healthy, and suicide is all-too-common, especially in the last few months.
But the community’s lack of employment and housing dominated the meeting.
In the face of the litany of problems, the four chief candidates were oddly quiet.
They were often drowned out by the councillor candidates, particularly former commissioner Judy Gingell, who noted after 42 years of politics, this is the first time she’s run for councillor.
Raymond Sydney also had lots to say. He championed his work with the First Nation’s child and family services, which
recently pushed to banish all territorial social workers from Kwanlin Dun traditional territory.
During their timed, three-minute introductions, all four chief candidates expressed their desire to hear from their people.
“It doesn’t matter what I’m in favour of, or not, I work as a part of the team and I will look for direction from the general public at large and the beneficiaries – it’s the beneficiaries’ dollars at the end of the day, and they decide how they want it spent,” said former chief Rick O’Brien, who served two terms before the First Nation settled their land claim.
“Now it’s a different ballgame,” he said, adding his main goal is to make sure his people really understand the agreement and what it offers. “It’s a tough game. This is it, we’re settled. We only get one shot at the kitty, there’s no going back to the trough. And we are in a unique position as an urban First Nation.”
When responding to questions about employment and the First Nation’s decision to ban territorial social workers, O’Brien took examples from the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, citing their child welfare act and their transitional employment program that aims to put people on social assistance to work.
Current councillor Ray Webb is also running for chief. He promised to give First Nation cash to beneficiaries.
Webb worked towards this goal as a councillor, but the matter was bogged down by legal wrangling and a referendum.
“I’m in support of the payout, but we’re not saying pay out everything, we’re saying pay out a percentage,” he said. “And we are not going to be the first ones. I was told last week that Ta’an’s already done it to their elders.
“Our elders are dying off everyday. I’ve been hearing since I was three or four years old from my mom before she passed that land claims would be settled one day and we’re going to get money. It’s been settled for six years and what have we really gotten?”
Wayne Jim is another chief candidate with a lot of previous political experience as a Kwanlin Dun councillor, MLA and Yukon government minister. He has also sat on numerous wildlife and fishery boards.
“Can we get this community safe? I say we can,” he said. “But we need ourselves, as Kwanlin Dun First Nation people, to make that commitment – to become responsible and deal with our issues here.”
John B. Smith, the last chief candidate, is new to politics. He touted how he’s chopped wood and offered rides to elders and single parents.
“That’s what I want to get out of this: make sure what they have to say gets heard,” he said. “I just want to make a difference.”
The election is scheduled for Wednesday March 16, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., with advanced polls from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Terms for both chief and all six councillors last three years.
(With files from Genesee Keevil)
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at email@example.com