Eileen Marlowe on women in politics, and lessons from the Dene Nation election

A relative newcomer, Eileen Marlowe took on two well-known candidates with political experience in the race for Dene National Chief, ultimately finishing second. She spoke with Lawrence Nayally on what she learned during the campaign.

Political newcomer finished 2nd in Wednesday's election for Dene National Chief

Eileen Marlowe at the Dene National Assembly in Hay River, N.W.T., this month. Marlowe, a newcomer to politics, finished second in the election for Dene National Chief earlier this week. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Norman Yakeleya may be the newly-elected chief of the Dene Nation, but for many, the breakout star of the election was Eileen Marlowe.

Originally from Lutsel K'e, the relatively unknown master's student held her own in the election against seasoned politicians Yakeleya and Richard Edjericon, running a primarily online campaign and ultimately finishing a close second in the race.

After returning to Yellowknife from the Dene assembly in Hay River, N.W.T., Marlowe sat down with the CBC's Lawrence Nayally to talk about what she learned over the course of the campaign, and what's next for her.

Q: First off, I just want to congratulate you on your race. I know it wasn't easy. What was going through your mind as the results came in?

Actually, I think before the election officer arrived at the building, I had arrived probably 15 minutes earlier. And I went into the room, and it was full, it was packed. So I ended up standing by the door for five or 10 minutes. And as I was standing there, my gut basically told me that I didn't get in. 

So then I went out into the lobby and sat down. My sister was sitting there, so I sat by her. And when the election officer came in 15, 20 minutes later, I didn't go back into the room. When she said Rick's name, I thought "OK, I'm not last." And then my name came up next and I went, "OK."

Q: Were you surprised you got as many votes as you did, though?

I knew I had support. I'm quite pleased with the day, how it unfolded.

If anything had come out of this, I have to say that if I was able to light a spark in the hearts of Aboriginal women, then yay. If I was able to open up the hearts of Aboriginal men, then yay. I have a feeling that I might have been able to at least touch the hearts of maybe one or two Tlicho men. And if I did, then yay, I'm happy with that. Because I know they're a very patriarchal society, and the number of women in leadership in that region is very very low.

So if I was able to do that, then I'm quite pleased.

Eileen Marlowe at the Dene National Assembly in Hay River, N.W.T. Marlowe says that it's 'somewhat likely' she would run for the chief again in three years. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Q: We heard there were some real encouraging words from delegates about your campaign. What kind of messages were you getting from people at the assembly, especially after the race?

They were very supportive. There was a couple of elderly ladies. They hugged me. They said "you need to run for MLA." I said: "Yeah, yeah, hold it" [laughing].

There were a lot of Aboriginal men who came up too. They were very supportive and encouraging. So I'm happy that there are very supportive Aboriginal men and women.

Q: What have you learned from this process, about what it's like to run for office?

I have to admit that, the first month, there was an immense amount of fear, I guess, sense of fear within me, and that fear was mostly associated with people being mean and overly critical. But really, at the end of the day, when I really thought about it, it's words. And if people feel that way, it's them. It's their issue, it's not about me.

And I think learning how to overcome that, or just telling yourself it's a non-issue, it's about them.

Q: Do you think you got that criticism because you were a female candidate?

Yes. Yeah.

Q: You talked a lot about the importance of a communications strategy as the Dene Nation goes forward. Do you think that message got through to the new chief?

I hope so. It's a big issue. It's a fundamental issue. But I still think it's not fully grasped. And if they're able to recognize this is a major issue... it's not just within the Dene Nation, it's within all the communities.

So if people are able to recognize that this is something that's desperately needed, I'm happy that I was able to plant that idea in the minds of many people within the communities.

Q: Any other lessons you'll take away from this, or things you want to share with people? Especially for other women who may be interested in running for office down the road.

I would say go for it. If there was anything different that I would do, I would probably spend more time trying to figure out who those delegates are. Because you're kind of going into it last minute, not knowing who the delegates are. I think that would be crucial.

And I was at a disadvantage because I couldn't go on a campaign trail. I mean, who has the time to go on the road for two months?

Q: You did it all online, right?

I did it all online. So I would just say that whole vulnerability piece, it's in your head. And if you can manage that, you can manage anything. 

Q: I want to go back to what that elder told you, about possibly running for an MLA position. Any thoughts about your future, politically, down the road?

Quite frankly, at this point, I'm not even thinking about it. I'm just thinking about having a good night's solid sleep, and I need to refocus on my thesis. So I'm not even going to think about it right now.

And if, potentially, in three years, with the Dene Nation, when that position comes up, it's somewhat likely that I would do it again. And this time, I would go at it with a bang.

I hope I lit a light in the hearts of Aboriginal women. They need to be the catalyst of change within their communities.

With files from Lawrence Nayally