Major shakeup as St. Mary's First Nation elects new chief, 4 new councillors
Allan (Chicky) Polchies Jr., is voted in as the new chief of St. Mary's First Nation
The sun is rising on a new day at St. Mary's First Nation, according to the community's newest chief, Allan (Chicky) Polchies Jr.
As dawn broke Wednesday morning, the Wolastoqiyik or Maliseet reserve, on Fredericton's north side, elected a new chief for the first time in 14 years.
But it was a tight race.
- New vibe, candidates fuel election buzz on St. Mary's First Nation
- The beat rolls on at St. Mary's First Nation Powwow
- St. Mary's mural pays tribute to lost loved ones and Indigenous culture
Polchies unseated incumbent Chief Candice Paul, who was first elected in 2004, with 468 ballots to Paul's 377.
Three other contenders also vied for the role:
- Randy Brooks: 28 votes
- Shawn Arthur Paul: 9 votes
- Donald Paul Sr.: 5 votes
The reserve, which has a population of 1,822 people, also elected 12 band councillors:
- Penny Polchies, who won the top council seat with 367 votes.
- Heather Currie
- Barb Brown
- Melanie Berube
- Evan Sacobie
- Suzanne McCoy
- Montgomery Paul
- Steve Meuse
- Shelley Polchies
- Judith Fullarton
- Leonard Brooks
- Walter Anthony Gabriel.
Patrick Francis, who is the electoral officer, estimated between 780 and 900 band members voted.
A community welcome to progress
Allan Polchies Jr., 48, is an award-winning St. Mary's First Nation event organizer and long-sitting band councillor.
His late mother, Beverley Polchies, known as Miss Bev, was a teacher and well-respected member of the community.
"[She] left a legacy of education behind," Polchies said.
His two sisters, Jennifer and Judith, and his father, Allan Polchies Sr., still live in the community.
Polchies entered politics to "contribute not only to the community, but to the whole territory and nationally as well," he said.
He worked as an assistant to two chiefs prior to his election to council 12 years ago.
For the past 10 years, he's organized the annual powwow, mentored groups of Wolastoqiyik youth and founded the Miss Teen St. Mary's Pageant.
"Sustaining our beautiful Wolastoqiyik culture of course is one of the things that I diligently work on every year," he said.
'A leader is a leader'
Polchies will be the first openly "two-spirited" chief of a First Nation in Atlantic Canada — a term that refers to an Indigenous person who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or otherwise gender non-conforming.
Polchies and his partner of eight years are the foster parents of a three-year-old.
"The decisions we make today as leaders — they're going to be affected by those decisions tomorrow," he said.
We all just want good for our people … I think St. Mary's is definitely ready for a change. It's time to inspire.- Chief Allan ( Chicky ) Polchies Jr.
Polchies said the election results reflect that the province's second-largest Maliseet reserve is extremely progressive.
"We are at a crossroads right now," he said.
"There is so much happening on the larger perspective of Indigenous issues and we can't lose focus of that."
He hopes to make a statement to all First Nations that no matter what their preference is, a leader is a leader.
"I'm not the only two-spirited person in the community," he said.
"We have people who are transgender as well. That diversity is here, at the surface, and that needs to be respected, which it is, and recognized."
Holding leaders to account
Polchies ran for chief on a platform that emphasized greater transparency between band members and elected officials.
"We need to start engaging our people at the community level, and all of our band membership, and we need to hear their voices," he said.
In recent months, controversy over the Sisson mine project has raised concerns about the accountability of band leadership.
Meanwhile, Lisa Howe, a long-sitting band councillor and housing director, was charged earlier this spring with forgery and defrauding the federal government. Howe's campaign for re-election was unsuccessful.
The controversies highlight a problem with communication, Polchies said, and a need to better engage band members on land management decisions.
A band with the "magnitude" of St. Mary's, Polchies said, needs a communications officer to liaise with its members and the wider community of Fredericton.
Caring for the environment
Polchies also intends to address the environmental issues that have been the subject of heated debate in the community.
"Nowadays, we need to be very careful about what land we are considering tearing apart," he said. "We need to have archaeologists at the table, lawyers, planners, folks that are able to give you insight on what you're actually dealing with."
He wants to put an end to "closed-door sort of deals, where everyone is getting sideswiped by information that is coming last minute."
A redesigned economic development plan, he said, would prioritize partnerships and training for jobs on the reserve.
Issues surrounding mental health
Many people in the community are also struggling with issues related to mental health, drugs and alcohol.
"We need to be able … to work on a strategic plan to heal our people," he said.
The new chief and council will take office on July 15.
After a charged election period, the annual St. Mary's First Nation powwow will also take place June 15 to 17 as a healing gathering to remind residents that "we are all brothers and sisters, all sharing the same land."
"We all just want good for our people … I think St. Mary's is definitely ready for a change," he said.