'I'm just going to have to go and be myself': Edmonton city councillor-elect Aaron Paquette
He's going to be Edmonton's first Indigenous councillor since the 1970s, but Aaron Paquette isn't thinking too much about that milestone as he gets ready to take his place at city hall.
"I want to represent my ward and that's going to be my main focus," said Paquette, who was elected Monday by voters in Ward 4, in the city's northeast.
His victory represents a breakthrough for many in the Indigenous community and while Paquette feels pride in his achievement, he's also a little uneasy about the weight of responsibility.
"I know that I'll be viewed under a lens," Paquette said in an interview. "People are going to watch my actions to see what community I'm actually serving."
But the new Ward 4 city councillor is OK with that, explaining that when people do watch him closely, they'll quickly find out he's going to represent every community with the same dedication.
The 43-year-old Paquette, who is of Cree Métis descent, has become well known in the city for his acclaimed artwork and award-winning writing, as well as his community activism.
He's spoken up about a range of sensitive issues in the city such as controversial police street checks or carding.
In the past he's also openly discussed a deeply personal history of feeling disconnected from society himself as a young man, when talking about the devastating Indigenous youth suicide crisis.
Paquette will be the first Indigenous member of Edmonton city council since David Ward, who was on council from 1968 until 1974 and later changed his name to Kiviaq, the Inuktituk name he had been given at birth.
First Nations chiefs and Indigenous community leaders thrilled at Paquette's landmark win have sent him congratulations.
"Aaron's win certainly showcases the possibilities," Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Craig Makinaw said in a statement. "It's important that the city council be representative of the diversity of the population and their needs."
It's praise the councillor-elect is humbled to hear but not something he wants to make a big deal about as he prepares for the job on city council.
"I'm just going to have to go and be myself and represent my ward as best I can," he said. "I come from an Indigenous background but my focus is to get the job done for the people in my community."
With Edmonton having one of the fastest growing and largest urban Indigenous populations in the country, Mayor Don Iveson said he's pleased to see council beginning to reflect the community.
But Iveson also said he feels some of what Paquette is going through.
"Just like when I was first elected at 28, people said, 'Oh, you're the youth councillor,' " Iveson said.
"I think we need to be really, really careful not to assign responsibility for a single community that a councillor happens to come from."
Getting to know other members of city council to collaborate on key issues is a big priority for Paquette as he gets ready for his new role.
Improving transit a priority
Improving transit access in northeast Edmonton is something he wants to get to work on fast after hearing repeatedly from people in Ward 4 that's important.
He's also now looking into setting up an office as he gets ready for a new chapter in his life.
And while the historic nature of his win is not a focal point for him, he hopes it can inspire others to dream big.
It's a message he hopes resonates with any people who don't feel a part of the system and can't see a way into it.
"They can be a part of things, they can be a part of the future of Edmonton and I think that's powerful."