The seven hopefuls to be the next chief of K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) gathered for a candidates’ forum on Oct. 23.
And about 60 members of the First Nation came to the forum to hear what the candidates had to say, which was plenty.
The forum began at about 7 p.m. and ran until almost midnight.
The candidates began by stating their cases to be elected chief on Nov. 6.
Andy Cardinal, an Ekati Mine worker, said he has the skills to help with KFN finances and programs and to provide more information to members.
“Those kinds of things I want to bring out to our community,” he said. “Be more transparent, up front and show what’s going on.”
As the first candidate to speak, Cardinal was also the first to mention one of the big issues facing KFN – what to do with a $28.3-million settlement with the federal government for the agricultural benefits in Treaty 8. Members recently voted against a proposal for a $15,000 individual one-time payout to all band members and setting up an $18-million trust fund.
“You as a community have to decide what you want to do on that,” Cardinal told the members. “It’s not basically up to what chief and council want to do. It has to go back into the community.”
Ken Norn, general manager of KFN’s development arm, said his life speaks for itself about his ability to be chief.
“For economic development, I will continue to work to create training and employment opportunities and business opportunities, for our members,” he said, noting he would like to see a youth centre completed and a new store built.
Norn said the big issue right now is the agricultural treaty benefit.
“My recommendation is going to be to do a small payment out before Christmas,” he said. “And I know there is a way of doing this and that we can settle the difference after the New Year. It may seem difficult, but it’s not a big deal.”
April Martel said she has the skills to be chief, including a passion for public speaking and a great work ethic, along with an ability to listen.
“My years in the teaching field have given me the tools to be a great leader in our community,” she said.
Plus, Martel noted she has volunteered for many years and served on numerous boards.
She said the number one issue in the community is housing, noting there are homeless people, houses deteriorating from mould and overcrowded homes.
Martel also went through a list of other concerns, including education, jobs training, wellness and health and culture and language.
Amos Cardinal began his remarks by saying KFN should look at the federal government’s obligations to the First Nation.
“A lot of First Nations across Canada are operating under core funding dollars that they get every year,” he said. “We have to go through the GNWT to get our money.”
However, Cardinal noted KFN has never signed a treaty with the GNWT, yet has to negotiate for things in the community.
“I think that’s wrong,” he said, saying the federal government should live up to its obligations and Treaty 8.
As for housing, Cardinal noted there is a sawmill on the Hay River Reserve.
“I believe we can be building a lot of houses along the river there,” he said. “You see a lot of single young guys walking around with no place to go.”
Cardinal also mentioned education, homelessness, poverty and transparency as some of his concerns.
Jeff Norn said his main reason for running is to increase KFN transparency.
“We got so many things that are in the books you don’t even know where to start until you actually start,” he said. “I want transparency through everything.”
Plus, Norn wants to bring back community co-operation.
“We’re a broken people,” he said. “We need cohesion. We need to be back together as Dene people.”
Instead, Norn said the First Nation is divided into little groups and families.
“And it shouldn’t be this way,” he said. “We should be one people. We’re Dene. We’re supposed to be one group.”
Norn added that problems with housing and alcohol on the reserve largely stem from unemployment.
Doreen Tambour expressed her vision of the people of KFN living in harmony.
“That’s how we lived traditionally,” she said. “We worked together. We made decisions together. We laughed together. We protected one another. We aren’t only protectors of the land. We’re protectors of our people. My mission is to continue to promote living the Dene Laws, which our ancestors have taught us. These are basic, simple, human, decent laws.”
There are a lot of concerns facing KFN, she noted. “But I think if you always focus on the negative in life then you’re only ever going to see the negative.”
Tambour said her experience in finance, administration and justice will help her as chief to overcome the problems facing KFN.
Lenny Fabian said he has a creative mind that he could put to use as chief, pointing to the example of his efforts as a youth worker.
“I built the youth centre from the ground up, on the verge of being scrapped and shut down,” he noted.
Fabian, 28, pointed out that most of his generation don’t even have a place to live.
“Most of us are still living with family,” he said.
In fact, Fabian said many of his generation and the next generation may have to leave the reserve for a place to live.
“I myself am on the verge of having to move,” he said. “I’m sorry to say that. Because there is nowhere to live on the reserve, unless you want to pay high prices for houses or living for high rent in town.”
Fabian told the band members he has taken care of the youth, adding, “And now it’s time for me to take care of the rest of you.”
Following the introductory comments, there were hours of questions on a wide variety of issues.
One of the questions was about the candidates’ views on legalized cannabis, considering it is not allowed on the Hay River Reserve under a KFN prohibition bylaw banning ‘intoxicating substances’.
There was general support among candidates for cannabis legalization and the hope that it could somehow become an economic opportunity for KFN.