Eric Morris is Yukon’s new regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
The former chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council beat incumbent Rick O’Brien during an election yesterday at Council of Yukon First Nations’ general assembly.
It was a tight race: Morris received 34 votes to O’Brien’s 27.
Such close results would usually warrant another round of voting. But both candidates agreed in advance whoever won the first ballot would take the title.
Morris will serve a three-year-term.
It was an unusual election in that, during his speech to the assembly, Morris offered few concrete proposals as to what he would do if elected.
Instead, he spoke in broad terms about the need for First Nations to take on big problems with small steps.
He spoke in glowing terms about what Yukon’s small aboriginal communities are capable of achieving with limited resources.
Both candidates talked about the need for Ottawa to properly implement settled agreements, and of the special circumstances of the three Yukon First Nations which remain without agreements.
O’Brien has served as regional chief for six years. He’s also a past chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation.
During his speech, he claimed an influential role in having the Canadian Auto Workers help fix the contaminated water supply of Little Salmon/ Carmacks over the last two years.
And he promised to keep communicating to the AFN, and to Canada, the unique circumstances the Yukon First Nations find themselves in.
For example, federal proposals geared towards helping reserves are of no use to Yukon, which has almost no reserve land.
But Joe Linklater, chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, wanted to know why his dealings with Ottawa haven’t gotten any easier since O’Brien took office.
Plans to educate Ottawa bureaucrats about how northern land-claim deals work “fell through,” O’Brien replied.
“We’re going to have to go back and get those commitments again,” he said.
The idea of self-governing First Nations is foreign to many outside the territory, said Champagne/Aishihik Chief Diane Strand.
She asked candidates if the AFN could form a new committee for the chiefs of self-governing First Nations.
Morris promised to “make that a priority.”
Morris recently completed an eight-year term as Teslin’s chief, which ended in February when he lost to newcomer Peter Johnston. (John Thompson)