Vuntut Gwitchin is the Yukon’s most northern riding and contains the community of Old Crow. It’s bordered to the south by the Klondike riding, to the west by the Alaska border and to the east by the N.W.T. border.
It is one of the Yukon’s eight rural seats and resides on the traditional territory of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. It is one of the least populated electoral districts, with fewer than 200 ballots cast in any election to date.
Pauline Frost is the incumbent Liberal MLA, beating the Yukon Party’s Darius Elias by seven votes in the 2016 election.
Darius Elias won the seat for the Liberal Party in the two previous elections in 2006 and 2011. Lorraine Peter (née Netro) won the seat for the NDP in 2000 and 2002.
Vuntut Gwitchin is the only riding that does not have a Yukon Party candidate. The two running candidates have been profiled in alphabetical order.
Annie Blake – Yukon New Democratic Party
Annie Blake is a Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation citizen and descendent of the Dagoo people. Blake is a social worker, currently employed as the director of Vuntut Gwitchin Health and Social Services overseeing healthcare in Old Crow.
Blake worked previously for the Council of Yukon First Nations and the Yukon Hospital Corporation’s First Nations Health Programs. She has also worked as a mental wellness and substance use counsellor.
Blake told the News she had extensive conversations with elders and friends in Old Crow before deciding to run.
“Some elders mentioned that I’m approachable, I’m easy to connect with, I’m willing to help people,” Blake said. “We had conversations about how it’s a new opportunity to help bring my new voice to a different level of the government to continue to advocate for citizens’ needs.”
Blake’s platform focuses on community connection, housing, elder care and health care and mental wellness access.
“The relationships with our citizens are always a priority for me,” she said. “That’s what’s important in any role we take on as advocates — it’s our duty to ensure their voices are heard.”
Blake is advocating for more governmental support to address housing. She explained that there are few options in Old Crow for people living alone, and the housing stock is seeing progressing issues such as black mould. There are also very few housing options for larger families, which precludes some families from opening their homes to children in the foster system.
Blake is also advocating for a mental wellness resource library, where citizens can find resources on addictions, mental health, coping skills and Indigenous ways of being.
“We have a lot of citizens in the community who read quite regularly, so something geared toward mental wellness could help citizens access resources,” she said.
Blake also sees a need for more access to counselling, optometry and dental services. Right now, Old Crow citizens must book specialist medical appointments in Whitehorse.
Blake hopes to become an MLA that will remain connected to the community post-election.
“Growing up in the community as children, our elders always talked about the importance of ensuring we support our young people to take on leadership roles within the community … to advocate for the needs of the community on an ongoing basis.”
Pauline Frost – Yukon Liberal Party
Pauline Frost is the incumbent candidate in Vuntut Gwitchin. She was elected for the first time in 2016 and has managed one of the Liberal cabinet’s largest files: Minister of Health and Social Services, Minister of Environment and Minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Previous to her election, Frost worked for the Vuntut Gwitchin government as a negotiator and senior official.
She was also president of the Vuntut Gwitchin Limited Partnership and chair of the Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee. Frost said her professional history has won her an intimate knowledge of the needs of Old Crow and its constituents.
“I’m very connected to the people and very connected to the environment,” she said, adding that mental health has become a major point of concern since the onset of the pandemic.
“It’s really important that we start looking at a holistic approach to wellness in the community,” she said. In her previous term, Frost focused on mental wellness, housing and Indigenous children in care. She noted that a 10-plex planned for Old Crow will be the first government housing support in the community. Frost hopes to win a second term to continue that work.
She also highlighted climate change as a campaign priority.
“Food security is huge for me, making sure that the community’s well prepared as we look at potential development, and balancing traditional knowledge practices with contemporary approaches,” she said.
Frost will also continue to advocate for protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if she is re-elected.
“I’ve dedicated my life to that — I’ve traveled significantly lobbying for protection,” Frost said. “We are pushing really hard with our partners and our stakeholders to look at the designation of a wilderness category.”
The incumbent hopes her professional history and willingness to tackle difficult issues will win her a second term as Vuntut Gwitchin MLA.
“I know together, we can only make our community and the Yukon a better place … I believe that I’m doing a good job, and I want to keep going on the good work that I’ve done so far.”
Contact Gabrielle Plonka at firstname.lastname@example.org