'I just want to thank you all': Charles McNeely elected new Sahtu secretariat chair by acclamation

Another Indigenous organization in the Northwest Territories is under new leadership, as the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated has chosen Charles McNeely as its new chairman.

McNeely ran unopposed; a late candidate was deemed ineligible

Charles McNeely says the priority at the assembly is finding a new chair for Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated. He had been doing the job on an interim basis, and late Tuesday he was elected to the position by acclamation. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Another Indigenous organization in the Northwest Territories is under new leadership, as the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated has chosen a new chairman.

Charles McNeely was acclaimed as the new chair at the annual assembly in Tulita, N.W.T., on Tuesday night. 

"I just want to thank you all, I feel great today," he told the delegates, who came from Deline, Tulita, Norman Wells, Colville Lake and Fort Good Hope. 

Raymond Tutcho, centre, had put his name forward for chair of the Sahtu secretariat two minutes after nominations had closed. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

The election had been set to take place Thursday afternoon, but when nominations closed on Tuesday night, McNeely was the only candidate to have put his name forward. 

Raymond Tutcho had also put his name forward at 5:02 p.m. — two minutes past the deadline — making him ineligible to run.

There did not appear to be controversy, however, as Tutcho congratulated McNeely on his new role shortly after he was elected.

McNeely succeeds Ethel Blondin-Andrew, who served as chair of the Sahtu Secretariat for the past nine years. She stepped down earlier this summer and McNeely was in the role on an interim basis.

No recent board meetings

Before nominations closed, McNeely had said electing a new chair was a priority for this week's assembly. 

Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated is an organization made up of the seven Sahtu land corporations, including four Dene land corporations and three Métis land corporations. It's responsible for administering the Sahtu Dene and Métis Land Claim Agreement, which was signed in Tulita in 1993.

Bear Rock near Tulita, N.W.T. The assembly is being held in Tulita this year. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

The chair is responsible for carrying out the wishes of the Sahtu Secretariat board, consisting of representatives from the Dene and Métis communities in the Sahtu, McNeely explained.

There hasn't been a board meeting recently, which means holding one will be the first job for the new chair, he said.

"After the assembly we'll get our direction from the assembly, then we'll have our regular board meeting. Then we'll set our priorities."

Land claim's 25th anniversary

The assembly is being held in September this year, rather than July or August, in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the land claim, which was signed in Tulita on Sept. 6, 1993, McNeely explained.

The Sahtu Tribal Council, the forerunner of the Sahtu Secretariat, negotiated the land claim with the federal and territorial governments. According to the agreement's 2016-17 implementation report, the land claim included:

  • Nearly 42,000 square kilometres of land in the Sahtu.
  • $130 million in tax-free capital transfers over 15 years.
  • Wildlife harvesting rights and the right of first refusal for commercial wildlife activities.
  • Establishment of government institutions to manage wildlife, land, water and the environment.
  • Guaranteed Sahtu representatives on public institutions.
  • The right to negotiate self-government agreements.
Nominations for the position of chair closed on Tuesday afternoon. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

'Using it as a tool'

Twenty-five years on, the land claim "gives a little more power to the Native groups, the seven land corporations," McNeely said.

Self-government agreements have been ongoing in the territory. The latest development happened in Norman Wells last week, when the community agreed to sign an agreement-in-principle with the federal government.

That development is another step in reaching a final self-government agreement for the Dene and Mé​tis living in Norman Wells.

"We're using [the secretariat] as a tool right now," said McNeely. "The tool's working."