Kwanlin Dun’s new chief focuses on employment and housing

Kwanlin Dun First Nation's newly elected chief says he wants to help his community move forward.

Kwanlin Dun First Nation’s newly elected chief says he wants to help his community move forward.

But when asked how he will do that, Rick O’Brien refused comment.

In his defence, O’Brien was busy during his first day in office. Thursday was the first of two, full-day meetings with his new council.

However, he’s done all of this before.

O’Brien served two terms as chief for Kwanlin Dun before it settled its land claim. He left to take on the role of regional chief for the national Assembly of First Nations.

He admits it is a whole different ball game now that Kwanlin Dun is self governing.

O’Brien’s main goal is to make sure his nation really understands its agreement and what it offers them, he said at the all-candidates forum last week.

Wednesday, he beat out the next closest candidate, Ray Webb, by 90 votes. Webb left his position on council to run for the top spot.

Charlene Charlie, Ronald MacIntosh, Alicia Vance and Raymond Sydney have replaced Webb and four other councillors while Jennifer Edzerza and Jessie Dawson were welcomed back.

There were 19 candidates running for the six councillor positions, including former commissioner Judy Gingell, who missed out by only 24 votes.

Sydney dominated the all-candidates forum last Tuesday. He may be new to council but he has been working for Kwanlin Dun’s Child and Family Services and takes great pride in the community’s attempt

to banish public social workers from its traditional territory.

“We need to really look at Carcross/Tagish, what they’ve done with their child welfare law they’ve enacted and created,” said O’Brien, during that meeting. “And maybe we need to create our own law on how we can look after our own children.”

O’Brien also referred to Carcross/Tagish’s transitional employment program, which tries to wean citizens off social assistance and into jobs.

Employment is a main priority for O’Brien.

He also flagged the urban First Nation’s need for economic development, stressing the importance of partnerships in development happening in and around Whitehorse.

“There are a lot of opportunities that we need to focus on,” he said, addressing roughly 60 people gathered at the Na’kwa’ta’Ku Potlatch House last week. “This is it, we’re settled. We have to work with what we have and if we don’t make the best of it, we’re going to be struggling. Right now we’re in a unique situation. We’re an urban First Nation, we have the best opportunities of all the First Nations in the Yukon.”

Here, O’Brien pointed out specific employment opportunities from carpentry, to slashing, to involvement in the proposed re-processing of tailings at the old Whitehorse copper mine, which expects to ship concentrate to Skagway. He also mentioned Kwanlin Dun’s land act, which will be going before Whitehorse’s municipal government and the territory soon, as well as the community’s ongoing discussion about building a new cemetery.

O’Brien blames employment and housing issues for the social problems – including alcohol and drug abuse – that plague his people.

“I know we have a lot of issues within the First Nation but I think we can work through it all,” he said. “If we just get together and work as a unit, we can move this First Nation forward.”

O’Brien and his council’s term lasts three years.

Over 440 votes were cast on Wednesday, with only five spoiled or rejected ballots, said chief electoral officer Crystal Trudeau.

The two other chief candidates, Wayne Jim and John B. Smith gathered 78 and 47 votes, respectively.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at