A new chair will be elected today to lead the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation but some of its beneficiaries say they don't want just 42 directors deciding the fate of 5,000 members.

The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation is tasked with managing and implementing the Inuvialuit Final Agreement.

The 42 directors that sit on the Inuvialuit community corporations in the Beaufort-Delta region of the Northwest Territories are the only ones casting ballots today. The vote will determine who will replace Nellie Cournoyea, the outgoing chair and CEO who served nine consecutive terms beginning in 1996.

"I think that every person, in every community, including people that live outside the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, should have a say in how their claim is run," said Crystal Lennie, a beneficiary.

Crystal Lennie

Inuvialuit Final Agreement beneficiary Crystal Lennie says 'every person, in every community, including people that live outside the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, should have a say in how their claim is run.' (David Thurton/CBC)

"I think Nellie has done a great job for the time that she has run the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation," Lennie said. 

"However I feel that it needs to be a more fair and democratic process where people should only be able to do two terms. They shouldn't have the multiple terms that Ms. Cournoyea has had."

Defending her organization's election rules, Cournoyea said it has spent years developing these procedures and it had determined a vote for all wasn't the best election method.

Nellie Cournoyea

Nellie Cournoyea, the IRC's outgoing chair and CEO, served nine consecutive terms beginning in 1996. 'This is not a popularity contest,' Cournoyea says. 'This is a private corporation.' (David Thurton/CBC)

"This is not a popularity contest," Cournoyea said. "This is a private corporation. And we are running it as a private corporation and there has to be structure and there has to be discipline. That was what the original negotiators spent a lot of time trying to do."

Candidates talk of change

Nevertheless a number of the candidates vying for her office say if they're elected they'll work to open up voting.

"That's one of my plans to make it more democratic," said candidate Jackie Jacobson. "So that all Inuvialuit get to vote. But it has to go through the 42 directors to get that changed."

Vince Teddy, former head of the Tuktoyaktuk Community Corporation, says he's open to discussions with directors if he's elected as the chair of the IRC, but he thinks the current structure has enough transparency and accountability.

"With their input and their open hearted discussion I am certain that we can accommodate the interest of all Inuvialuit," Teddy said.

He said he would give more power to the IRC board directors that come from the community corporations, to make more decisions.

Candidate Richard McLeod also said he'll listen to what the people want.

"I want to be able to vote for my leader. I guess it was decided a long time ago in a by-law that those few people will elect who the leader is."

Opening up the leadership election to all beneficiaries of voting age isn't unheard of among land claim organizations in the North. The Gwich'in Tribal Council allows all its members of voting age, whether they live in the region or not, to select its president and vice-president. All Nunavut Land Claims Agreement beneficiaries are also eligible to vote in leadership elections for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.