Kassi calls election, Linklater to make new bid for old job

Vuntut Gwitchin citizens will go to the polls on March 13 to elect a chief and three councillors.

Vuntut Gwitchin citizens will go to the polls on March 13 to elect a chief and three councillors.

Chief Norma Kassi won’t be seeking re-election, but her predecessor, Joe Linklater, will be putting his name back on the ballot.

The byelection will fill four seats until the end of the current four-year term, which began in late 2010.

Two months ago, Kassi, who has only been in power a little more than a year, warned of a looming election because the council no longer had a quorum.

Deputy chief Lorraine Netro had resigned and councillor Katherine Nukon had announced she would be retiring in the new year. The four-person council had already lost appointee Brandon Kyikavichik, who had quit just a few months into his term.

But in January the First Nation said that election had been put on hold.

It said it would wait for a newly struck constitutional review committee to present its results at the annual general assembly in April.

But in an interview from Old Crow this week, Kassi said things need to move sooner than that.

The new government is responsible for finishing up a few things before the fiscal-year end, she explained.

The former NDP MLA for the region confirmed once again that she will not be putting her name forward to run for chief.

“It was a very hard choice for me,” Kassi said. “I put a lot into stepping forward and trying to take a lead on making things stronger and better for our people in the future, in particular our young people, so I do this with a heavy heart.

“I’ve learned a lot from this past year and I’ve pretty much dedicated my whole life, so far, to politics and trying to make things better for our people and our homelands. And I will continue to try and make things better for our people but in the meantime, sometimes it’s best to just not resist moving forward, because it is in the best interest of the people. Sometimes, the best thing to do is just move on and let new leadership take over.”

But instead of new leadership, it’s actually a familiar face that is looking to take back control of the remote First Nation.

Former chief Joe Linklater said Monday he will put his name forward again to run for the job he held from November 1998 until he resigned in January 2011.

“I didn’t plan on stepping back in, but I see so much potential there that, in my mind, I’m just more volunteering and putting my name forward to try and help out. And then I’d step back out again, after the term’s up, and hopefully the next generation steps up and takes over.”

Linklater said he hasn’t been involved in what has been happening in Old Crow lately.

He has been in Central America, taking his first vacation in 12 years.

But he said he has noticed that Kassi’s leadership was straying from the trail he had blazed.

“They didn’t have the same vision,” he said. “They were, I think, moving along with a different set of priorities and that, I think, really threw the community a little bit. What we really need to do is not to have wholesale change but to evolve into who we’re going to be. In that sense, I think we’ve gone off in a direction the community’s not quite ready for.”

The processes in place to ensure community input and involvement were also being eroded, he said.

But Kassi shared the overall goal of building a healthier community, he said, even though she was going about it in a different way.

“We want to just try and develop a healthier community and work in partnership with public government to do it, as well, because if Old Crow’s healthier, the Yukon’s healthier.”

Margaret Smith, the only councillor remaining, will stay on for the rest of the four-year term.

Garry Njootli, who has run for chief twice before, once against Kassi, and was also the Yukon Party’s candidate in the last election, said he hasn’t decided if he’ll enter this race.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at