White River elects champion of new voting system

The White River First Nation has a new chief, Charles Eikland Jr. He was elected in the recent election, which included mail-in ballots and excluded some of the band’s American citizens.


The White River First Nation has a new chief, Charles Eikland Jr. He was elected in the recent election, which included mail-in ballots and excluded some of the band’s American citizens for the first time.

Eikland Jr. won a 55 per cent majority after the second count of the First Nation’s preferential vote. He defeated Roland Peters, who received 31 per cent of the final vote, and Duncan Stephen, who garnered 13.75 per cent. Angela Demit was eliminated in the second count.

Former chief David Johnny did not seek re-election. Instead, he said Tuesday, he’s returning to the Department of Highways and Public Works.

The election was Dec. 17 but the ballots weren’t counted until after Christmas to make sure all of the mail-in ballots would be included, said electoral officer Tim Cant.

Apart from that delay and the difficulty of establishing a current mailing list for eligible voters, the new system seems to be a success, Cant added.

“There was a huge number of mail-in ballots,” he said. “They came in from all over. People were quite happy about it. We had a higher turnout in this election than in the past election. That shows clearly that (the new system) does work and people want it to work.”

It was a community referendum last summer that ended more than three years of debate over mail-in ballots and the participation of Alaskan beneficiaries.

“The purpose of the referendum was to allow Canadian status members to decide on who should vote,” said Eikland Jr. in an interview Tuesday.

After losing the 2008 election, Eikland Jr. challenged the voting system in federal court, eventually instigating the referendum.

As well as allowing mail-in ballots, the referendum decided that any US White River beneficiaries, without a Canadian Indian status card, would no longer have a vote.

“The concern is with Americans who are benefitting from two claims,” Eikland Jr. said. “I’d like to make things fair for all our citizens. I don’t think it’s fair for them to benefit in two countries. In Alaska, we are not recognized unless we were born in the U.S. It should be reciprocal to make it fair.”

The U.S.- Canada border runs right through the southwestern Yukon First Nation’s traditional territory, leaving it with citizens in both Alaska and the Yukon.

When the First Nation began negotiating a land claim in the 1990s, many Alaskan citizens added their names to the beneficiaries list.

“The beneficiaries list almost doubles the status numbers,” said Eikland Jr., adding the increase is due mostly to the Alaskans.

But White River has never signed a land claim agreement, meaning financial transfers from Ottawa are calculated by the number of citizens with Canadian federal Indian status cards and not by the number of beneficiaries.

American beneficiaries who are not responsible for any of the money should not have a say on how it is spent, Eikland Jr. argued. Especially when many are also beneficiaries of a claim with the United States government, he added.

That’s not the way outgoing chief David Johnny sees it.

“I’ve been there since day one,” said Johnny. “And (the Americans) hardly ever voted, despite the fact they could.”

Johnny agreed the voting system needed to be amended to allow mail-in ballots so First Nation members living in other parts of Canada could have a say, without having to physically get themselves to Beaver Creek.

“We heard the voting system wasn’t working for years,” he said. “We were already instructed by our boss, the general assembly. We already had a committee started and then Charlie came with the court case and $200,000 later, we were back to where we were. The court case shouldn’t have even happened.”

For Johnny, the new status-only voting rules undermine the traditional laws and governance of the First Nation.

“White River doesn’t recognize that border,” he said. “Those people over there are our people. We don’t believe in that system. He (Eikland Jr.) is trying to draw that line – he’s related to those people.”

The new chief readily admits he has direct relations in Alaska, but he also has cousins who are citizens of the Kluane First Nation and family members in other countries outside of Canada, he said. They don’t expect to be able to vote in their elections.

“It’s unfortunate the border came through,” Eikland Jr. said. “But it happened. We’re not going to change the U.S.- Canada border.”

And just because voting rights must abide by the colonially-imposed, imaginary line doesn’t mean all ties must be severed, he added.

Cultural gatherings, activities and traditions can – and should – still be shared, he said.

Eikland Jr. will take office Jan. 16 along with four new councillors.

The First Nation is divided into two language groups: Northern Tutchone and Upper Tanana. Citizens of each group vote for two councillors and one alternate to represent them.

Michael Nieman and Dwayne Broeren were elected for the Northern Tutchone, with Stanley Jack as the alternate. Patrick Johnny and Gordon John were elected for the Upper Tanana, with Charles Eikland Sr. as the alternate.

There were five candidates for each group.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 30. Hanley announced three more COVID-19 cases in a release on Nov. 21. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three more COVID-19 cases, new exposure notice announced

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, announced three… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: COVID-19 strikes another blow at high-school students

They don’t show up very often in COVID-19 case statistics, but they… Continue reading

The Cornerstone housing project under construction at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. Community Services Minister John Streicker said he will consult with the Yukon Contractors Association after concerns were raised in the legislature about COVID-19 isolation procedures for Outside workers at the site. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Concerns raised about alternate self-isolation plans for construction

Minister Streicker said going forward, official safety plans should be shared across a worksite

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, pictured at a press conference in October, announced three new cases of COVID-19 on Nov. 20 as well as a new public exposure notice. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New COVID-19 cases, public exposure notice announced

The new cases have all been linked to previous cases

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

City council was closed to public on March 23 due to gathering rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council is now hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Solution sought to allow for more public presentations with council

Teleconference or video may provide opportunities, Roddick says

Megan Waterman, director of the Lastraw Ranch, is using remediated placer mine land in the Dawson area to raise local meat in a new initiative undertaken with the Yukon government’s agriculture branch. (Submitted)
Dawson-area farm using placer miner partnership to raise pigs on leased land

“Who in their right mind is going to do agriculture at a mining claim? But this made sense.”

Riverdale residents can learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s plan to FireSmart a total of 24 hectares in the area of Chadburn Lake Road and south of the Hidden Lakes trail at a meeting on Nov. 26. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Meeting will focus on FireSmart plans

Riverdale residents will learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s FireSmarting… Continue reading

The City of Whitehorse is planning to borrow $10 million to help pay for the construction of the operations building (pictured), a move that has one concillor questioning why they don’t just use reserve funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Councillor questions borrowing plan

City of Whitehorse would borrow $10 million for operations building

Most Read