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Members of the Ross River Dena Council meet with council candidates

People demonstrate genuine concern for future of what happens on unceded territory of the Ross River Dena Council
Signs welcoming people to Ross River. Nearly 400 people live in the unincorporated community. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

The hall filled up slowly as more and more people entered the school gym in Ross River to hear the speeches of the candidates vying for chief and council positions on March 7.

More chairs had to be pulled out of storage and slid into well-spaced rows. People shooed away local dogs as they tried to scoot in through the open door on the side of the school. In all, 31 people attended the meeting, with most staying right until the end well past 10 p.m.

After seven years as chief, Jack Caesar is being challenged by five other candidates, including former councillor Dylan Loblaw. The other four letting their name stand for chief are Teddy Charlie, Gordon Dick, Marie Eshleman, and Clifford McLeod.

Twelve people have thrown their hat in the ring to become one of four councillors. They are:

  • Jenny Caesar;
  • Verna Nukon;
  • John Atkinson;
  • Minnie Besner;
  • Pat Atkinson;
  • Robert Mason Dick;
  • David Magill;
  • Roberta Dick;
  • Victoria Medcalfe;
  • Dorothy Smith;
  • Louie Tommy; and
  • Jimmy Smith.

The candidates represent a wide range of ages and seem quite balanced between men and women.

The Ross River Dena Council is not self-governing, and as such, has to hold elections every three years. The number of councillors is fixed by the federal government. They do not have elder and youth representatives as some other First Nations. The eleven self-governing First Nations in the territory can write their own constitution and construct their council and leadership as they wish.

Though the meeting was closed to media, an election official the next day reported that the meeting was respectful and the questions and issues raised were extremely important.

The Ross River Dena Council has a requirement that the chief is alcohol- and drug-free. This led the discussion to a fairly personal level as candidates frankly discussed their relationship to substance use. This fostered discussions about meaningful solutions for the community as it faces issues around substance use and ways to support recovery.

People at the meeting were also concerned about mining development and the state of abandoned mines on their traditional territory. Both the Wolverine and Faro mines are in need of significant remediations. The Ross River Dena Council are stewards of the land and have long-standing hurt for the destruction mining has done to their unceded territory.

The recent acquisition of mineral properties on the Vangorda plateau by Ross River’s development corporation, Dena Nezziddi, was not well understood, nor it seemed appreciated by many present, according to the election official.

Communication and working together were voiced as key to council and the whole membership being able to accomplish what they set out to do.

Advance polls were held in Whitehorse on March 9 at the Yukon Plaza from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and in Faro at the Yukon University campus located at 111 Bell Cres. from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

An advance poll was also to take place in Watson Lake on March 10 at the Yukon University campus located at 210 Robert Campbell Highway from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Regular polls will be open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. at the Ross River School library on March 14, and the successful candidates will be announced after the polls close.

- With files from Dana Hatherly

Contact Lawrie Crawford at