Meet the candidates for chief of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in in Yukon

Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in citizens will vote Thursday for a new chief, two months after the election was originally scheduled. Four people are running.

4 people are running to be chief of the First Nation in a byelection Thursday

The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Government office in Dawson City. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in citizens will vote Thursday for a new chief, two months after the election was originally scheduled.

Four people are running — incumbent Roberta Joseph, Majida Lord, Ryan Peterson, and Babe Titus.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the Yukon First Nation to postpone the vote in June. 

At that time, three councillors — Ryan Peterson, Clara Van Bibber, and Darren Bullen — won their seats by acclamation, and Simon Nagano was acclaimed as deputy chief. All were sworn in for a three-year term.

The byelection for chief was put off until "it could be safely conducted with appropriate COVID-19 protocols."

That has meant a shorter-than-normal election period, and no advance polls. Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in citizens can vote on Thursday at the First Nation's office in Dawson City, or the Yukon Inn in Whitehorse. Polls are open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

CBC's Yukon Morning spoke to the four candidates for chief this week, about why they're running, and what their priorities would be as chief. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order of their last names.

Roberta Joseph

Joseph was elected chief of the First Nation in 2014, and has served two terms. She says many citizens have asked her to run again.

"I think that, you know, together we had accomplished a lot of priorities and I think that we can continue to work and move forward to continue to accomplish and finish some of the priorities that that we're working on," she said.

Joseph said one of her main priorities will be to develop a new strategic plan to guide decisions over the next few years. She also wants to see a long term capital and infrastructure plan in place, "so that we know what we're working towards in terms of the infrastructure that's needed."

She also said she wants to focus on education, and negotiating an administration of justice agreement with Ottawa. She said there have been stumbling blocks.

"We're challenged with the funding flowing not directly to the First Nations from the federal government on some of these programs and services that we would like to negotiate," she said.

Majida Lord

Lord has worked for the First Nation for 14 years, and recently as the finance director. She said she was encouraged to run for chief by other citizens.

"I believe it's time for change. I think we need to work with all citizens, and listen and learn and work together," she said.

Lord says she believes too few Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in citizens are involved in the First Nation's decision making. 

"I think we need to do better as far as reaching out to our citizens. So whether it's through email, hard-copy mailing — but really reaching out. I think we really need to sit down and look at what needs to change and start making those changes."

Lord says health and wellness is a big issue for her, and ensuring that people have the resources they need.

"I think we need to relook at what's happening now, or what programs are being offered, and really ask the citizens what it is that they need," she said.

Moosehide Village, downstream from Dawson City, seen in 2018. It's the site of an annual gathering for Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in families and other visitors. The gathering was cancelled this year because of COVID-19. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Ryan Peterson 

Peterson served on the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in council from 2014 to 2017 and was recently acclaimed to another term. He decided to run for chief, because people have told him they want "different direction and different leadership."

"I think that I bring good quality leadership. I like to work in a team setting, and I like to work with people and make sure that everybody's working at their best capabilities," he said.

Peterson said he's not looking to make big changes, but wants to focus on making the First Nation's government run more smoothly.

"I would work directly with my directors and make sure that our governments functioning properly," he said.

Peterson also said he wants to make sure Land of Plenty, a Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in meeting area north of Dawson, is well-used year round.

"Being out on the land is extremely important to me. I feel that a lot of people have lost their roots and we're struggling to regain our culture," he said. "That's one [of the] big things that I would be pushing for." 

Babe Titus

Titus is a former councillor who describes herself as "very family-oriented."

"Usually when I hear about concerns...I like to hear with an open heart and open mind," she said.

She said her experience on council prompted her to run for chief.

"It kind of gave me a good insight into our government and how it's run, and just the improvements that I would like to see within our government."

She says engaging with citizens, including those not living in on Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in traditional territory, will be a big priority for her. 

"I feel that some of our citizens who live outside of the traditional territory are not always considered in our policies," she said. 

Titus says education is another priority, and she'd like to see more support for citizens who pursue post-secondary education. That could include hiring more of those students in the summer, she added.

With files from Elyn Jones