There was no rest for the new heads of the Gwich’in Tribal Council following the Sept. 3 election, as Grand Chief-elect Ken Smith and Deputy Grand Chief-elect Kristine McLeod were sworn in to their positions during the GTC’s national assembly Sept. 5.
After the online assembly, both said the next focus would be transitioning from the outgoing leadership.
“We’re pretty much hitting the ground running,” said McLeod. “It didn’t really hit me until Saturday afternoon when we did the swearing-in ceremony and RCMP officers came in to stand with us.
“When I was signing the paperwork I was a little bit shaky.”
Only three days onto the job, both said they were still getting up to speed on the current state of affairs within the GTC. However, Smith said he already saw several things he liked and wanted to put more energy into.
Topping his list of those were the level of communication and educational programming, particularly the GTC’s on the land programs that help connect people of all ages with their roots.
Once the transition is complete, Smith said he was hoping to begin an organizational review to make sure the GTC was operating at the best effectiveness it could. He noted he had eyes on a few areas for improvement, notably the Gwich’in Development Corporation and how it invests the nation’s wealth, but also how the GTC works with the Designation Gwich’in Organizations on the front lines.
“Working with the DGOs in each of the four communities is something we will be placing some focus on and working to see how the GTC can better support community based operations they’re conducting,” he said. “We made some great ground over the course of the campaign, however that work doesn’t end here. We need to continue having a regular presence in the communities.”
Smith was been named GTC President and Grand Chief with 611 votes during the general election, defeating Richard John Blake, who garnered 413 votes.
Kristine McLeod was elected GTC deputy Grand Chief with 551 votes, defeating former NWT Premier and two-time Grand Chief Richard Nerysoo, who collected 487 votes.
In total, 1024 votes were cast for the Grand Chief leadership vote and 1038 votes were cast in the Deputy Grand Chief vote.
Accepting defeat, Richard John Blake thanked his supporters for voting for him and called on the Gwich’in people to unite under the new leadership.
“I know a lot of people are not happy with the results but that’s ok,” he stated on his Facebook. “We need to support the young people that got in.”
The new leaders will have several challenges to deal with, including a final push by U.S. President Donald Trump to open the Alaskan Wildlife Reserve to oil and gas drilling, ongoing issues with the Inuvik Wind Generation project, growing the economy in the wake of Covid-19 and continuing to push for language and cultural renewal among Gwich’in of all ages.
Both McLeod and Smith expressed their thanks for the outpouring of support for their win.
“A big mahsi cho and thank you to the Gwich’in participants to putting their faith in myself and Ken Smith,” she said. “We look forward to working together and alongside you and being accessible leaders over the next four years.”