Colville Lake, N.W.T., introduces new custom election system, a step towards self-government

The community of Colville Lake, N.W.T., is gearing up for another election; but this time, it’s trying something new.

Voting age changed, 4 new councillor positions added for equal representation

Colville Lake, N.W.T., which has a population of about 150, will have its first custom election on Nov. 15, a stepping stone for self-government. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

The community of Colville Lake, N.W.T., is gearing up for another election; but this time, it's trying something new.

It's no longer following the territory's Election and Plebiscites Act, but rather, its own election system that reflects customs and traditions of the community.

It's called a custom election.

The community, working towards self-governance, passed its custom election law this past September.

"It's the first time the community adopted its own custom election law," said Joseph Kochon, the band manager who was a major architect of the community's custom election.

Joseph Kochon says this new system was a long time coming. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Kochon said this new system was a long time coming.

"This is a matter that was raised from day one by our elders, and over 20 years ago: how to ensure we have good representation from each family group."

So what's new?

One change is the voting age — it's now 16, as opposed to 18 years old, to cater to the community's large young population.

But perhaps the biggest difference is the addition of new positions.

On top of electing a chief, sub-chief, and a general councillor, the new system allows the community to elect four "Got'ine" councillors.

Got'ine, in the North Slavey language, is a word that means families, or clans, in a geographical area.

The band has approximately 260 members, and four Got'ines, according to Chief Wilbert Kochon.

There's one dominant family in the community, and for many years they've been taking the majority of seats on the band council.

"If we do it the old way… majority's gonna rule, right? We're trying to get away from that and trying to represent everybody," said Chief Kochon.  

The custom election will allow different family groups in Colville Lake to have Got'ine representatives on council. 

"So the whole band works for the people, and nobody can't have their own personal agenda," said Chief Kochon, who is unsure if he'll run in the election yet.

This month, the four Got'ines submitted a list nominating their candidates to the election committee, who will finalize the list for voting.

"We want to ensure that we have that transparency and make sure that everybody's views is heard," said Joseph Kochon.

Joseph Kochon says this will be the structure for elections once the community achieves self-government. He hopes this system will "pave the way" for good representation in the future. 

The band is now accepting nominations. The election is scheduled for Nov. 15.