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Third election in four years for Carcross/Tagish First Nation sees low voter turnout

Maria Benoit is the new Haa Shaa du Hen
Maria Benoit has been elected chief of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. (Submitted)

Carcross/Tagish First Nation citizens elected a new Haa Shaa du Hen (chief) in a by-election on June 27.

Maria Benoit is the new Haa Shaa du Hen. The clan-based structure of the self-governing First Nation is such that only the Haa Shaa du Hen is elected by citizens. The other six council members are appointed by their respective clans.

After the polls closed, Maria Benoit had a solid win with 139 votes. Danny Cresswell received 49 votes and Calvin Lindstrom, 20. Benoit told the News that she felt comfortable throughout the campaign that she would win.

“I campaigned on health and healing. And was hoping that we would have unity, and mostly working with the community and the citizens. And accountability and transparency to the citizens. But health and healing mostly.”

Only 211 people voted, from a possible pool of 804 eligible voters, making the voter turnout figure only 26 per cent. This is a drop from the last election which had a turnout of 42 per cent and had a close run between two candidates.

Benoit said she wasn’t sure why the voter turnout was so low, but she was pleased with the high number of mail-in ballots that were received from across Canada.

This is Carcross/Tagish First Nation’s second by-election in the last four years, and the third election in the same period of time. Two of Benoit’s predecessors, Andy Carvill and Lynda Dickson did not complete their full terms, necessitating the two by-elections for the small First Nation.

Benoit spoke about the workshops and trainings that have occurred since the new year dealt the First Nation with the death of four young citizens due to the opioid crisis. Since the emergency declaration, their department of health and wellness has responded with a multi-faceted response including an evening support van and open door services.

“We’re hoping to build more houses this summer. And we’re going to be working on building a safe home — that’s happening this summer,” Benoit said. “We’ve been talking about an elders complex, I’m hoping that’s going to be happening soon.”

The government’s traditional territory extends into northern British Columbia, and so it is negotiating a treaty with Canada and the B.C. government. This was part of a proclamation declared by the First Nation on March 30.

Additionally, the Atlin hydro project is of concern to Carcross/Tagish First Nation. “We’re working with the B.C. government and YTG. Talks are continuing,” Benoit said.

“They have to talk to us. They’re encroaching on our traditional territory. They have to negotiate with our First Nation about what they’re doing. They just can’t just bulldoze across our land. They have to come meet with us and talk to us.”

Benoit says it is important that “[we are] preserving and protecting our culture and our traditional territory and our language and our rights.”

Contact Lawrie Crawford at