James Allen defends chief’s seat

The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations will be heading to the polls on Oct. 16 to elect its chief and council for the next four-year term.

The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations will be heading to the polls on Oct. 16 to elect its chief and council for the next four-year term.

Two candidates are running for the position of chief while 14 are vying for four councillor spots.

Incumbent Chief James Allen is going for re-election against his opponent, Steve Smith.

Allen said he was elected in 2010 based on promises of change, and that’s exactly what he’s delivered.

“When we started out we had three pillars: language and culture, economic development and healing,” he said.

“There were a lot of areas that we concentrated on. I think we did a good job coming in because at our last community meeting, our director of property services came up and said he only had two comments about housing issues. Usually at these meetings, housing problems are the biggest agenda items. So there is evidence that the changes we’ve made are having a positive impact.”

The First Nation has partnered with Habitat for Humanity in order to provide housing to low-income families, Allen said, and a triplex in the Takhini River subdivision has been completed and is ready for citizens to move into.

There are also discussions in the works to establish a First Nation Market Housing Fund, where qualified citizens can apply for financial support towards home ownership.

Allen said he and his council have also restructured a number of departments to modernize them.

That means eliminating programs that were operating under the old model provided by the former Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

“Some of those processes weren’t working for us anymore,” Allen said.

They also created an executive council that looks after the affairs of the chief and council.

The housing and maintenance department is now called property services, and four sub-departments were created under that.

Health and social services, now called the wellness department, has also seen some changes.

Council is still in the process of restructuring social programs and pushing for more economic development, Allen said.

“It took almost four years to implement all this but we still have some work to do,” he said.

“Because of the restructuring, we’ll have to come up with some new policies as well. Some older ones will have to be removed. We want to get our people more self-reliant. We’ve introduced a lot of new processes and I think, throughout the years, we’ve put a lot of focus on internal development. And when we came on we wanted to start developing programs and benefits that empower our people.”

Allen and his council also passed a landmark language policy this summer, the Dakwanje Language Act.

It’s the first of its kind among Canadian self-governing First Nations.

It serves to restore and revitalize the Southern Tutchone language, which is endangered.

Allen’s opponent, Steve Smith, has worked with the Champagne and Aishihik executive for two terms in the past.

He’s taken a master’s degree in business administration and has 16 years of experience in economic development.

In April 2013, Smith was appointed to the Champagne Aishihik Trust Board for a three-year term.

The board oversees investment funds to the First Nation and makes recommendations to council on investment policy matters.

He also represented the First Nation at the Yukon Indian Development Corporation, where he was secretary and treasurer.

He said he’s running for chief because he feels like he has something to offer.

“I think I bring a package of both culture and western economic views and philosophies,” Smith said.

“I have a pretty solid grounding in our cultural ways and I also have an education. I believe council and the administration have drifted away from really having that strong relationship with the people.”

Smith said if he’s elected, he wants to re-establish a foundation for Champagne and Aishihik citizens to become more self-reliant.

He believes the most pressing issue facing the First Nation today is communication between citizens and government, he said.

“Based on what I’ve heard, the government has to become a little bit more accountable to the people, it has to be more communicative.”

Smith said he’d like to see the government reach out more to its citizens and let them know more clearly what its goals and objectives are.

“We’re not a team,” he added.

“One of my goals is to really work at building the team of Champagne Aishihik First Nation. I want to bring it back into a more cohesive unit working to reach our shared vision.”

Smith would like to see more involvement in mentorship skills and job training opportunities for youth.

Allen said when it comes to leadership, continuity can be a good word.

“You can’t be changing horses all the time and going in different directions,” he said.

“At some point we have to keep moving ahead. I think we have a government structure that has a good foundation. For now we have to start looking at developing our people.”

Four candidates are running for the position of elder councillor while four youth are running for one youth councillor spot.

Three incumbent councillors – Harold Johnson, Dayle MacDonald and Leslie Walker – are among the 14 candidates running for four councillor positions.

A candidates’ forum will be held on Sept. 30 in Whitehorse at the High Country Inn from 6 to 10 p.m.

Another will be held on Oct. 1 in Haines Junction at the Da Ku Cultural Centre from 6 to 10 p.m., according to chief returning officer Georgina Leslie.

The advance poll will be held on Oct. 2 at various locations.

The election is Oct. 16 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Contact Myles Dolphin at