Raymond Sydney has some ambitious plans for the Kwanlin Dun First Nation.
Currently a councillor with the First Nation’s government, Sydney has spent long stretches working as the acting chief, and helped the community go through the last eight years of work building a government essentially from the ground up.
“The scope of it was quite overwhelming,” Sydney said. “Getting everything in place took a long time.”
And, if the Wolf Clan member is elected chief in March, that hard work isn’t likely to stop any time soon.
Sydney is one of four candidates vying to be chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation. He’ll face off against Doris Bill, Wayne Jim and Jessica Edzerza. The current chief, Rick O’Brien, isn’t running for re-election.
“We are a young self-government,” said Sydney, “but we’ve come a long way.”
“We have 15 different boards and committees with terms of reference in place. We’ve doubled the number of council meetings; we have a new cemetery and implemented a First Nation hires policy. The Jackson Lake healing camp contribution agreement has been signed, which brings $500,000 a year for the next three years,” he said.
But going forward, there is still a lot of work to be done, Sydney said.
“We need to work on keeping our membership included and involved, and on building our external relationships,” he said.
One of the very first changes Sydney would make as chief is to re-open the government’s office of citizenship. It was closed eight years ago and that has resulted in a backlog of between 80 and 100 people, many of them children, who aren’t able to take advantage of the KDFN citizenship benefits, Sydney said.
He also wants to set up pardon workshops, to help people with old criminal records get their slates wiped clean so they can move on with their lives.
“Say you’ve got a teenager who gets in trouble and has a record. Now he’s 50, and he’s totally turned his life around. He should be able to get that record removed,” Sydney said.
But navigating the federal pardon system is challenging for even the most well-supported people, and Sydney worries that many Kwanlin Dun citizens who might deserve pardons aren’t able to get them without help.
But that doesn’t mean he wants to give everyone a free pass. Community safety is a serious concern in Kwanlin Dun, and to help deal with it Sydney wants to create a full-time community advocate position.
“No matter how good our policies are, many of our families have a wide spectrum of people and challenges, and someone will always fall through the cracks. A community advocate’s job would be to catch those people,” and make sure they get the help they need, Sydney said.
But, in order for this all to work, “we need to develop a strong economic revenue base to support our social programming, especially around housing,” he said.
According to Sydney, Kwanlin Dun is the largest single landowner in Whitehorse, and the largest contributor to the city’s property taxes. But as it stands, the community has a lot of difficulty making money by leasing its land because it can’t register it with the government without giving up traditional rights and title. And banks won’t back mortgages or loans for land that isn’t registered.
It’s a catch-22, and a solution has been in the works for years, but negotiations have stalled, Sydney said.
Sydney said he’d push to finish that work so the community can use the money from land leases to help support its social infrastructure, much of which is crumbling.
The last major plank in his platform is to create a development corporation for the government, which would operate at arms length from the chief and council, and help drive economic activity in the community.
The First Nation currently has its own construction company, Canyon City Construction, which would be brought under the control of the development corp. once it’s set up, Sydney said.
Sydney grew up in Whitehorse and was raised in the old Kwanlin Dun village, before it was moved from the Marwell industrial area. He spent 15 years policing with the RCMP and one year as a pre-release transition worker at Whitehorse Correctional.
Before being elected to council three years ago, Sydney served two years as a justice support worker for Kwanlin Dun. His time in the community’s front line positions, and his background in justice, gives him a unique insight into the challenges facing his community, he said.
The election is slated for March 19, with an advance poll to be held on March 3.
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