There were more snowmobiles than trucks parked outside the Darius Elias Community Centre in Old Crow as community people gathered to witness the swearing-in of their new chief and council on Jan. 11.
Pauline Frost was sworn in as chief, and Debra-Leigh Reti and Jeneen Fri Njootli became councillors for the Vuntut Gwitchin Government.
The election for chief and council took place in November 2022, with four candidates vying for chief. The incumbent, Dana Tizya-Tramm, chose not to run for re-election. Frost’s victory was narrow and two council positions remain vacant.
The ceremony opened with several prayer offerings, sung and spoken in Gwitchin and English. There were prayers for their new leaders to stay humble and find common ground.
Former Chief Tizya-Tramm gave thanks to the community for investing trust in his council and graciously introduced new chief and council.
Chief Frost spoke while flanked by her new council members, elder and youth representatives, as an RCMP officer dressed in red serge stood at attention. A caribou hide had been laid on the floor in front of the table where chief and council would sign their oaths. Another hide on the wall was imprinted with a message from the youth of the community – the Ni’inilii Declaration of Language and the importance of culture, caribou and ancestorial teachings.
Frost thanked the previous council for their hard work and the sacrifices they made for the community.
“I am honoured to stand before you today as your chief. I’m very proud to be here, proud to continue on the legacy that my mother laid for me. The trail she blazed for me was to lead the people from a humble place, from a kind place, from a compassionate and respectful place.”
Alice Frost, Pauline Frost’s mother, was the first woman to lead the Vuntut Gwitchin and was chief from 1985 to 1988.
Between 2015 and 2021, Pauline Frost was concurrently the minister of Health and Social Services, minister of Environment and minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation in the last Liberal government.
Frost is now one of three female chiefs in the territory descended from Old Crow matriarch Caroline Moses. The others are Doris Bill of the Kwanlin Dün and Barb Joe of the Champagne Aishihik First Nation.
The event honoured the children of the community because “they are the future” and invited elders to speak and provide guidance to the new council.
Later in the evening, Frost recognized Sally McDonald who was in attendance at the ceremony. Dr. McDonald has been attending to the people in the isolated community since 1978 when she first was a doctor working out of Inuvik. Applause filled the room.
After feasting on community food, with buckets and trays passed around to the tables, the hall filled with fiddle music, children and jigging. There was a brilliant display of fireworks on the ice of the Porcupine river.
Frost said, “I know that I come from a place of old teachings. I grew up in an era when we’re coming to a period of change, and that kind of change, was an opportunity for me to keep my foot rooted in my culture, and rooted in ways of the Gwitchin people.”
Old Crow is the most northerly community in the Yukon, and the only one that is not accessible by road. It is home to approximately 260 people. Vuntut Gwitchin were one of the first four Yukon First Nations to sign modern land claim agreements with the federal government in 1993. The Vuntut Gwitchin have a citizenry of over 900 members who live and work around the world, and they consider themselves part of the Gwich’en nation who span territory between Alaska and the Northwest Territories.
Contact Lawrie Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org