'He's alright, I guess': Leaders, youth share mixed reactions to new Dene National Chief

Chiefs and youth from N.W.T. react to the election of Dene Nation's newest national chief — Norman Yakeleya. Some say they have mixed feelings, while others express hope for change.

Norman Yakeleya won the election with 41% of the votes on Wednesday

Norman Yakeleya celebrates his win Wednesday evening with his wife, Sheryl, by his side. He had 96 votes of the 232 cast. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Chief Lloyd Chicot of Ka'a'gee Tu First Nation came to the Dene National Assembly with one simple yet deep desire: change.

"I'd like to see some change happen," said Chicot, who brought a delegation with him from Kakisa, N.W.T. — just a couple of hours away from Hay River, where the 48th Dene National Assembly took place this week.

The Dene Nation picked Norman Yakeleya as its new leader on Wednesday, with about 41 per cent of the 232 votes cast.

It was also an emotional milestone for outgoing national chief Bill Erasmus, leaving the role after nearly 30 years. 

The assembly concluded on Thursday, with leaders set to meet again next summer in Fort McPherson, N.W.T.

The organization, which once had the hefty responsibility of negotiating a comprehensive land claim for all Dene and Métis, is now a political advocacy group.

Chief Lloyd Chicot of Ka'a'gee Tu First Nation says he cast his vote for change at the 48th Dene National Assembly in Hay River, N.W.T., this past week. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)

Chicot, the chief of the community of about 50 people, said too often when things happen at the national level, they don't filter back to the smaller communities.

"People don't really know what's going on," he said, adding that he really hopes for improved communication — something candidate Eileen Marlowe (who came in second place with 32 per cent of the vote) had pushed in her pitch to leaders.

I wish you very well, because you're gonna need it.- Frieda Martselos , Chief of Salt River First Nation

Chicot said he wanted to see a change in leadership, but also in the negative attitude that people have toward each other and other governments.

When asked if he's confident that Yakeleya will bring that change, Chicot didn't answer. Instead, he said it's up to chiefs to help the leader.

"I'm just one chief, but if all the other chiefs take that into consideration … I think we can see change happen."

'We support him'

Frieda Martselos, chief of Salt River First Nation near Fort Smith, felt the same way coming into the election. She said she wanted a "clean slate."

Frieda Martselos, chief of Salt River First Nation, says she'll be watching to see how Yakeleya performs as leader. (John Last/CBC)

"I came with a vision of change," Martselos told CBC News. "A vision of a new mandate, so that the people of the North and especially our Dene people would be able to move forward."

She said Yakeyela seems like a strong leader.

"We support him," said Martselos. "Once the election is over, [it's] over, and we all stand behind the elected person and that's what I intend to do."

Martselos stressed the importance of relationships and contact, inviting Yakeleya to her community.

"I wish you very well, because you're gonna need it," Martselos told Yakeleya during a final address to members Thursday.

"Everyday the issues get bigger and larger."

Martselos said she's going to be watching Yakeleya's leadership in the next little while.

"He'll sure hear from me if I feel he hasn't fulfilled the mandate that I expect of a leader."

Detah Chief Edward Sangris says he has mixed feelings after the election Wednesday. (John Last/CBC)

Youth wishes Yakeleya 'good luck'

On Thursday, Detah Chief Edward Sangris said he thought it would be a tight race between Yakeleya and candidate Richard Edjericon. The latter ended up with 26 per cent of delegates' votes.

"I have mixed feelings," said Sangris of the results.

"I think that [Yakeleya] is willing, he has the experience. But we have to wait and see how he does."

I hope he does good.- Tarek Chicot

When asked what he thought of Yakeleya, a 17-year-old Tarek Chicot answered: "He's alright, I guess."

Chicot, a youth delegate from Kakisa who is also the nephew of Chief Chicot, said he hopes there will be more funding for youth programs in his community.

Tarek Chicot is a 17-year-old delegate from Kakisa, N.W.T. He says he'd like more funding for youth programs in his community of about 50 people. (John Last/CBC)

"I think [Yakeleya] wanted to do the elders' things first," he noted.

Yakeleya had said during the candidates' forum and in a post-election interview that his first priority will be to establish an elders council. He also mentioned plans to start a women's and youth council.

The young Chicot said he wishes the best for the new Dene national chief.

"I hope he does good and good luck to him."

With files from John Last