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Meet the candidates for chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council

Four people have put their names on the ballot to be chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council in Yukon. It's the first time in many years that First Nation citizens will vote directly for their chief.

First Nation members will vote directly for chief, for the first time in many years

Wooden totems represent the different moieties, or clans, of the Teslin Tlingit Council in Teslin, Yukon. Citizens of the First Nation will vote for thier next Naa Shàade Háni (chief) on Tuesday. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

When members of Yukon's Teslin Tlingit Council (TTC) cast ballots on Tuesday for their new Naa Shàade Háni (chief), it'll be the first time many of them have ever done so. 

For many years, citizens of the First Nation were unable to vote directly for their chief. Instead, the Naa Shàade Háni was selected by elders and the general council, which represents TTC's five clans.

Four people have put their names on the ballot for Tuesday's chief election. They are: Robert Magill, Eric Morris, John Peters Jr., and Tod Smarch.

Two people are running to be deputy chief: Alex Oakley and Carl Smarch.

CBC spoke to all the candidates for chief, about why they wanted to run, and what their priorities will be if elected.

Robert Magill

Robert Magill says his 12 years working for the First Nation, along with decades of experience in the construction industry, have prepared him to be chief.

"With that experience, I believe I have something to offer for the Teslin Tlingit Council citizens and the government itself," he said. "I have a good understanding of the entire government operations."

Magill says one of his priorities will be to ensure that citizens benefit from training they've received through Yukon University, by making sure there are jobs and opportunities for them in the community.

He also says health and wellness of citizens is a big issue for him.

"There is a lot of big money decisions that are coming into Teslin over the next 10 years. You know, with the big bridge project coming up, continuation of the housing construction, we're also looking at new administration building. So we've got to be careful on the boom-bust jobs," he said.

"And then all that extra money that comes into the community also can bring some extra problems into the community — so we've got to find a nice balance."

Eric Morris

Eric Morris was chief of the First Nation from 2000 to 2008, and has also represented Yukon at the Assembly of First Nations. He says that experience makes him the right person to lead the First Nation once again.

"I really feel that I've established lots of connections, not only the knowledge and experience, but the connections — just with what's happening within politics with First Nations in the Yukon, and in Canada," he said.

Morris says a big priority for him will be strengthening governance within the First Nation, and ensuring that citizens' needs are met.

A view of Teslin, Yukon. (Philippe Morin)

"So, looking at how we can improve on the service and the delivery of what our government offers to our citizens is something that's going to be a priority for me," he said.

"I really want to see our citizens involved in the work plans and budgeting that we're going to be doing for the next fiscal year. I think that's going to be very important in developing the work that's ahead of us."

Morris also said health and wellness, as well as job training, will be priorities for him.

John Peters Jr.

John Peters Jr. is a former deputy chief of the First Nation and has sat as an executive member of the council. He says he's been involved with the community in some way, most of his life.

He describes his main goal as chief is to be there for people who need help. He says he'll be an "involved chief."

"I see a need for our people to be represented fairly and have their concerns acknowledged. We have a lot of people who are hurting, people who are grieving, people who need housing, people who just need these extra things in life to help them to get ahead," he said.

"Even myself, I've been down and out. I understand how it feels to be without, and how it feels when you have no one there to talk to."

Peters said housing is a big issue for him, as well as language and culture, and food security.

"We need to start up our community garden again, look at it, and look at how we can can our own foods, dehydrate our own foods, hire our hunters to provide for our elders."

Tod Smarch

Tod Smarch says he's been a Red Seal carpenter for 22 years, is an avid trapper and has done lots of volunteer work over the years as well.

As chief, he says he'd like to help "Tlingit-ize" the government.

"Our government leaders in the past, they focused in on establishing our government and getting us set up. And I look at it, this is the opportunity where we implement utilizing our citizens to the fullest capacity," he said.

"I want to reach out to everybody to make sure they're a part of it, one way or the other, and they have the support of their government behind them."

He says climate change is a big concern for him.

"It's a very huge concern of mine, and the elders. We really need to look at it and see how things are gonna go," he said.

"Mother Earth, in my opinion, is possibly trying to heal itself with this [COVID-19]."

Culture and language are also priorities for him, along with the health and well-being of citizens. Like Magill, he cites concerns about some big construction projects planned in the coming years.

"With jobs and whatnot, comes the addictions and drugs. So we really need to focus in on a strategy, how we're gonna take care of it."

TTC citizens can vote on Tuesday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., at the recreation centre in Teslin, or the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse.

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