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Neophyte hopes trench work propels her to top of CYFN

It’s not enough that Brenda Jackson works behind the scenes for the Council of Yukon First Nations, she wants to be the institution’s…

It’s not enough that Brenda Jackson works behind the scenes for the Council of Yukon First Nations, she wants to be the institution’s public face.

For 10 years, Jackson has worked with CYFN as justice director, policy analyst, court worker and currently as human resource manager.

Now she’s running for the grand chief job against two other contenders.

“Everything I’ve done has been for the betterment and unity of our people,” said Jackson in an interview with the News.

“I believe strongly in (CYFN’s) motto, ‘Together today for our children tomorrow.’”

The different positions she’s held within CYFN give Jackson an insider’s view as the organization undergoes a major restructuring.

CYFN should be a central organization that helps other member First Nations, through programming, services and advocacy, said Jackson.

“There’s no mandate for CYFN,” said Jackson, a member of the Wolf Clan, Na-cho Nyak Dun.

“It was established in the ‘70s to help our First Nations become self-governing and work on their land claims.

“The majority has accomplished that. We met our mandate. We’ve done what we set out to do, and now we’re on a new horizon.”

CYFN should act as spokesperson for issues like climate change and children’s services, she added.

Voters, a chief and four delegates from each First Nation, will mark their ballots during CYFN’s annual general assembly at Helen’s Fish Camp at Lake Laberge from June 24 to 26.

Also running for chief is grand chief Andy Carvill, of the Dakh-ka Tlingit First Nation and Kwanlin Dun First Nation lawyer Victoria Fred.

Carvill was elected in 2005, succeeding Ed Schultz.

Jackson is a self-described political neophyte, but believes that’s a positive.

Toiling on the frontlines of social justice work gives her the grassroots experience needed to head CYFN, she said.

“Being in the trenches for 10 years and working on the frontlines exposed me to a lot of issues facing our people,” said Jackson.

There’s no hidden agenda, she added.

Mother of one, Jackson was born and raised in Whitehorse by parents Jessie Germaine, stepfather Dennis Kohlruss and Oliver Jackson.

She still spends summers at the family fish camp harvesting and preparing salmon, moose and berries.

Traditional land and climate change are becoming more important issues as the territorial government gets involved in both, said Jackson.

The Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation land-dispute court case against the government suggests the consultation process is not without kinks, she said.

But traditional land is also threatened by climate change, leading to incidents like spruce beetle infestations.

“We’re grounded to the land … it’s part of who we are,” said Jackson.

This spring CYFN criticized the government for its handling of the Yukon Child and Family Services Act.

The territory failed to fully consult on the act, which gives government officials much power over First Nation children, said CYFN.

“The government didn’t have the follow-up in the end,” said Jackson. “It was frustrating.”

Jackson would work to make sure the new corrections act, which could be tabled within a year, has a smoother ride to royal assent.

But it has yet to be easy, she said.

“It’s breaking new trail (so) it’s not smooth and we’re working on it,” said Jackson, adding that the government hopefully learned from its experience with the childs act.

CYFN has to find a new building immediately before the lease on its current location in Riverdale ends, said Jackson.

“We have to be out by March 2009 and we don’t want to leave things until the last minute,” she said.

Officials are asking for proposals for limited leases, she added.

Her full-time job doesn’t leave Jackson with the desired free time to campaign.

But any campaigning is good practice: Jackson eventually wants to run for chief of Na-cho Nyak Dun.

That’s her goal.

“I need to take the appropriate steps to get there,” said Jackson.

“I’m looking to get into roles that’ll expose me to these issues.”

A candidate must get 60 per cent of the votes to win.

If a candidate is not chosen on the first ballot, a run-off vote takes place with the third-place finisher removed from the race.

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