The Gwich'in Tribal Council has elected a new grand chief and deputy grand chief after its election on Thursday.
Kenny Smith has been elected as the grand chief with 611 of the 1,024 ballots cast, according to preliminary results sent by the chief returning officer Mary Ann Villeneuve early Friday morning. His competition, Richard John Blake, received 413 votes.
Kristine McLeod received 551 votes of the 1,038 ballots cast for deputy grand chief, winning the spot. Richard Nerysoo trailed behind with 487 votes.
Villeneuve says candidates had until Friday at 12 p.m. to appeal the preliminary results.
Smith said hearing the results has been a mix of emotions after campaigning for weeks and getting to connect with so many people.
"It's been nothing short of inspiring and humbling at the same time, just feeling very grateful today that the Gwich'in people of the Northwest Territories have chosen me to be their next grand chief."
He hopes to continue to consult with people across the Northwest Territories and the country to build a framework for the next four years.
"I'm just incredibly humbled and inspired by having the opportunity over the last six or seven weeks to have spoken directly with our Gwich'in people."
He's also ready to focus on wealth creation and the economy, and says strong leadership is needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's part of the reasons why I was running. When you do have pandemics like this, the Gwich'in are no strangers to these types of things. We have faced these in the past, and this is where leadership becomes incredibly important."
Prior to the election, Smith told CBC he would bring his experience in business management to the job, along with a focus on education, culture, and language.
Originally from Tetl'it Zheh or Fort McPherson, N.W.T., Smith is the vice-chair of the Gwich'in Settlement Corporation. He has spent over 15 years in the mining industry, taking on roles in management and community engagement.
Smith replaces Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan, who after one term at the helm of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, decided to pass on her responsibilities citing family reasons.
McLeod told CBC that she knew from a young age that she would be running for leadership roles in her nation.
Originally from Inuvik, N.W.T., McLeod said she would like to inspire Gwich'in women to follow their aspirations, demonstrating "that women can be strong, successful politicians and leaders while also being great mothers and wives."
McLeod will be replacing deputy grand chief Jordan Peterson who also said he wasn't seeking re-election due to family reasons.
The Gwich'in Tribal Council will hold its annual general assembly over the weekend, which will be held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The council says it plans to hold a special assembly in several months' time, once the newly-elected executive has been in office for a little while.