Kluane First Nation chief candidate stresses education, job creation

An adjunct professor at the University of Northern British Columbia is running for chief of Kluane First Nation. Alyce Johnson is one of three candidates vying for the top spot in the Burwash Landing-based First Nation.

An adjunct professor at the University of Northern British Columbia is running for chief of Kluane First Nation.

Alyce Johnson is one of three candidates vying for the top spot in the Burwash Landing-based First Nation. She and Shannon Walker are challenging incumbent Math’ieya Alatini. The election is Aug. 9.

“What is key to any governance is that citizens are first. Citizens are first and foremost,” said Johnson. “Consultation is important to decision-making, because as a government we need to listen to the voices of the people. We cannot shut them up.”

Giving people an education is key to ensuring they can make their voices heard, said Johnson. She grew up in Burwash Landing, but raised her family largely in British Columbia. While living in Lower Post, B.C., she saw the need for aboriginal children across Canada to get a good education. This motivated her to earn both undergraduate and graduate degrees in education from the University of British Columbia. She also completed a PhD in Indigenous Studies from Trent University in Peterborough, Ont.

She’s taught in both British Columbia and Yukon, including at Yukon College. During five years as a teacher and principal at a school on a reserve in the Fraser Valley, she saw students become more interested in pursuing education after high school. Before then, the school had not seen a student graduate from Grade 12 in about 20 years, she said.

The Kluane First Nation is very small, with only a few hundred members, she said. Many of them have some form of post-secondary education. But it’s hard for them to find jobs within the First Nation, said Johnson.

“We need to bring a lot of our people home,” said Johnson, who is, herself, in the process of moving back to Burwash Landing permanently after teaching at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George for the last couple of years. The First Nation needs to create more jobs for its members. This could mean forming mentorship programs between youth and elders, or building partnerships with the Yukon Literacy Coalition or Yukon College to bring more training to the community, she said. The First Nation should also take advantage of jobs with mining projects in the area, said Johnson.

Students need to return to the community, and there need to be key jobs for them once they come back, said Johnson. Without these jobs, it’s hard for them to find homes. Many of the First Nation’s houses are set aside for people who work for the First Nation. But most of the people who work for the First Nation aren’t Kluane First Nation citizens. That leaves many youth homeless, she said.

The youth’s entrepreneurial spirit needs to be encouraged, said Johnson. And more work needs to be done to revitalize the First Nation’s language.

“Without the language, you lose a lot of your culture, because the culture is embedded in the language,” she said.

But the lack of housing and job opportunities isn’t unique to the Kluane First Nation, said Johnson. First Nations across Canada are facing these problems. As chief, she would bring Kluane First Nation’s concerns to the Assembly of First Nation’s National Chief Shawn Atleo. First Nations need to work together to have their concerns heard, she said.

“I think it’s creating that kind of publicity that really drives what is happening on a regional and a national basis,” said Johnson.

The First Nation also needs to work with the neighbouring White River First Nation on how to best use land that overlaps the two First Nations, she said. Building partnerships is a traditional value of the First Nation, said Johnson.

Johnson’s experiences working with territorial and federal governments, as well as in different not-for-profit organizations, will help her with the administrative duties as chief, she said. And her educational background means she understands common issues First Nations across Canada face, she said. But this doesn’t mean she’s forgotten her culture.

“I grew up on the land,” said Johnson. “I know how to harvest. I’ve learned how to dry meat. I have this basis. So I have a good balance between the cultural and academic world.”

Kluane First Nation members can cast their ballots at the Jacquot Building on Aug. 9 or at the advance poll on Aug. 3. Citizens can also mail in their ballots.

Five people are running for two council-at-large seats. Janice Dubois, Elodie Dulac, Keith Johnson, Monique Martin and Grace Southwick are seeking these positions. Youth councillor Jared Dulac and elder councilor Sharon Cabanak have both been acclaimed.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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