Kristine McLeod has many reasons for wanting to be the next Gwich’in Tribal Council Deputy Grand Chief, but central to it all is her pride in her heritage.
The granddaughter of William McLeod and Sarah McLeod-Firth of Tsiigehtchic, and daughter of Sandra and Vern “Happy” McLeod of Inuvik, Kristine McLeod said she can trace her roots back to Mary and Simon Modeste and has a deep passion for her nation’s well-being, but her motivations to run for the position go deeper than that.
“I want to set an example for my daughter, my two nieces, sisters, and all Gwich’in women and show them that if you work hard and are truly dedicated to something, women can be successful without having to choose between their family and their career,” she said. “Gwich’in are strong, proud people and we have the potential to use that to our advantage, to ensure a successful and prosperous future for the generations to come. We should be proud of how far we’ve come as a Nation, and the future possibilities are endless.
“I’d like to be the bridge between the past and the future.”
She notes building that bridge is going to take a lot of work, but she has some areas she would like to focus on. Expanding economic opportunities by strengthening the nation’s position in both economic development and the workforce, and ensuring Gwich’in owned businesses have fair access to any construction projects or opportunities within the settlement region.
Also on her agenda is establishing an Elder’s Advisory Council to keep better lines of communication open, as well as review current language and culture policies to identify areas for improvement, growth and/or modernization. She also pledged to implement and maintain increased Gwich’in education in the school curriculum.
One issue McLeod said she wanted to hone in on was the capacity for skilled and educated members, noting people would stay in the settlement region or come back if the job opportunities allowed for it.
“More and more of our members are leaving the Gwich’in Settlement Area (GSA) to further their education and work experience, and this will continue until we can build more opportunities and capacity for them within the GSA so they don’t have to leave, or at least if they leave they choose to come back,” she said. “We tell our children that education is important, but it’s our responsibility to build capacity so they can put those skills and knowledge to work within the communities.”
Having been President of the Nihtat Youth Council in her early teens to her current positions as Vice Chair of the Izhii K’aiik’it Tat Gwich’in society and Chair of the Gwich’in Settlement Corporation, McLeod is no stranger to Gwich’in affairs. By day, she manages the Planning and Budgeting portfolio at the Department of Finance with the GNWT.
McLeod said she had a personal reason for wanting the job as well. In 2018, she had traveled to Aklavik with Kenny Smith — who happens to be running for Grand Chief — to present to the GTC Annual General Assembly when she met the late Bertha Francis, who was translating the proceedings.
“Bertha motioned for me to come over and talk to her. As I walked over to Bertha I could see tears in her eyes but she was smiling, and as she hugged me she whispered that she was so proud and overwhelmed to see her friend Sarah McLeod-Firth’s granddaughter doing a good job and helping our Nation,” she said. “I knew in that moment I was exactly where I needed to be, and I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing for our Nation.
“Bertha showed me how much of a positive impact one person’s actions can have on someone else.”
Gwich’in Tribal Council’s election day is Sept. 3.