Meet the three candidates running for Dene National Chief

As the three candidates for Dene National Chief begin their campaigns over the summer months, here’s a bit of background on them, what’s motivating them to run and where they see the Dene Nation going forward.

Election to replace longtime Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus expected at end of August

Norman Yakeleya, Richard Edjericon, and Eileen Marlowe are all vying for the position of Dene National Chief. (CBC)

The field is set with three candidates officially in the running in the upcoming election to be the next Dene National Chief.

Richard Edjericon, Eileen Marlowe and Norman Yakeleya are running for the election, which will take place at the Dene National Assembly at West Point First Nation, near Hay River this August.

The Assembly is scheduled for Aug. 20-22 with the election happening Aug. 22.

As the three candidates begin their campaigns over the summer months, here's a bit of background on them, what's motivating them to run and where they see the Dene Nation going forward.

Eileen Marlowe

Eileen Marlowe is running to become the next Dene National Chief, she's calling for the Dene Nation to return to its activist roots. (Submitted by Eileen Marlowe)

Marlowe is from Lutsel K'e and lives in Yellowknife. She's currently working on her master's degree in communications management. She's previously worked with the Akaitcho 8 Tribal Corporation.

"I come to the table with a fresh, vibrant vision with new ideas," she said. "That's something that's needed from some Northern leaders. Diversity is important around any table and the viewpoints of women need to be reflected in the Northwest Territories."  

Q: What is the most important issue for the Dene Nation?

Improving communication between the different leaders and groups within the Dene National Assembly is Marlowe's key message. She pointed to the Berger Inquiry in the 1970s as a high point in different communities working toward a common goal.

"As Dene of the Northwest Territories, we need to move back to that way of thinking," said Marlowe. "The question is if we were to be that collaborative today, what are some of the things we can achieve together?"  

Q: Why did you feel you had to run in this election?

For Marlowe, it was important to have a woman in the race as the next Dene chief. When she heard that no women had stepped forward, she said it was something she had to do.

"I felt there's been a lack of female representation in all aspects of government," she said.

"There is a need to penetrate the walls of the old boys club and introduce new ideas, new vision, diversity and encourage women in the Northwest Territories to not be afraid to run."    

Q: Where do you see the Dene Nation in 10 years?

"I would like to see advocacy re-invigorated back into the Dene Nation," she said. "It was intended to be an advocacy organization. That aspect has been lost to some extent … bringing back advocacy and having that strong collaboration is critical."  

Richard Edjericon

Richard Edjericon has held numerous elected positions and is also pitching his experience to voters. (Submitted)

Edjericon is from Fort Resolution and lives in N'dilo.

He's a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and served as chief from 1999-2003. He was also a spokesman for the Akaitcho and a chair and board member of the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Review Board.

He's also run in past federal and territorial election campaigns. He lost to Tom Beaulieu in the 2015 territorial election.

"You name it, we've done it," he said. "I'm quite familiar with the Akaitcho process and all the processes that have been concluded. Going into this election understanding the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board review process, understanding industry, where the [territorial government] was going with devolution, there are a lot of underlying issues facing our communities."  

Q: What is the most important issue for the Dene Nation?     

Edjericon wants the Dene Nation to re-examine its mandate and its relationships with the various regional governments in the Northwest Territories.

"It's really important the regions speak for themselves," he said. "They have their own grand chiefs right now we need to take a look at the Dene Nation at how we all co-exist and work together."  

"The mandate of the Dene Nation, we really need to talk about that — maybe by having another assembly, bringing in all the elders and the leaders, the young people and the youth and try to look at how we're going to go forward with this whole Dene Nation."

Q: How will you be different from outgoing Chief Bill Erasmus?

Edjericon does not appear to plan any major shift away from the policies and leadership of Erasmus, suggesting tweaks instead of wholesale change is needed for the Dene Nation.

He suggests adding an elders or youth advisory council as a good way to "build on where Mr. Erasmus left off."

"The organization is alive and well, we want to bring new energy to the organization to continue to be the voice of the Dene in the North," he said.

Q: Where do you see the Dene Nation at in 10 years?

Edjericon sees a collaborative approach between Dene Nation, the regional Aboriginal governments, the territorial and federal government.

Once the land claim negotiations are concluded, he sees Dene Nation taking on an advocacy role to make sure the Section 35 rights of the Dene are respected by other levels of government.

"It'd be nice to get all these land claims done and concluded," he said. "We have a lot of issues at the local level — alcohol, drugs, housing and so-on — we need to look at how we can continue to build on our relationships to support our communities."

Norman Yakeleya

Norman Yakeleya says his experience in governance for First Nations and the territory will serve him as he runs for Dene National Chief. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Yakeleya is a former negotiator for the Sahtu, a chief and councillor in Tulita and an MLA for the Sahtu in the Northwest Territories Legislature. He's originally from Tulita and now lives in Yellowknife.

"I've felt there's a lot of excitement and challenges for Dene in the North," he said. "We have an opportunity to move into the 21st century with some goals and aspirations for the Dene people.

"There's a strong movement toward healing and having the Dene Nation come together in a united force ... in issues that affect the small communities and the people such as education, justice, health and economic development."

Q: What makes you unique as a candidate for Dene National Chief?

Yakeleya points to his experience working in First Nations and the territorial government as what sets him apart as a candidate for chief. He says he would increase lobbying efforts with the federal government, getting recognition for the Dene's unique place in the North.

"The Dene people has a unique style of government, people, culture, values and beliefs. That gives me hope," he said. "As the elders have said, we are Dene people. People from the land."

Q: How do you want to lead the Dene National Assembly?   

"It's not just about me. It's about our five regions," he said. "The Dene Nation is an advocate, a servant to the five regions. We need to work together on common issues for the survival of the Dene and reaffirm who we are as a Dene Nation."