The Gwich'in Tribal Council will elect a new deputy grand chief this week.
Kristine McLeod and Richard Nerysoo are both vying for the spot in the election on Thursday.
Incoming leaders will have an important role to play in outstanding issues like negotiating self-government, managing land and resources, improving employment opportunities, along with revitalizing language, culture, and heritage.
Jordan Peterson, the outgoing deputy grand chief opted not to seek re-election, saying one of the "driving factors" was family.
CBC asked the two deputy chief candidates what their priorities are if elected and how they would serve their communities and people.
Originally from Inuvik, N.W.T., Kristine McLeod knew from a young age that she would be running for leadership roles in her nation.
"I used to watch my grandmother and all the work that she did for our nation, and I used to think to myself, this is something that I want to do," McLeod said.
She would like to instill the same drive in her daughter and inspire other Gwich'in women to follow their aspirations, demonstrating "that women can be strong, successful politicians and leaders while also being great mothers and wives."
I know that Gwich'in are strong, proud people. - Kristine McLeod
McLeod also attributes her decision to run because of her passion for the Gwich'in nation's well-being. She said she'd bring her skills in management and leadership to the table, and work toward "a successful and prosperous future for the generations to come."
McLeod currently lives in Yellowknife where she works for the government of the Northwest Territories as the manager of financial planning and budgeting with the Department of Finance. She also has served on the Gwich'in Settlement Corporation for the past four years: three as vice-chair and one as the chairperson.
While each community has different needs, she would like to focus on key issues and work toward greater unity.
"The social challenges the North is currently facing are evident across the board and we need to work together at every level of government to come up with the answer."
Her three priorities are education and capacity, business support and development, as well as language and cultural preservation. She also highlighted outstanding issues, like self-government, issues with the high cost of living, housing, climate change, and health and wellness.
"I know that Gwich'in are strong, proud people and we have the potential to use that to our advantage to ensure a successful and prosperous future for the generations to come. I'd like to be a part of that," McLeod said.
Richard Nerysoo is no stranger to politics.
Over the course of his career, Nerysoo has taken on various roles in governments, councils, and intergovernmental organizations to push conversations forward about the promotion and recognition of Indigenous peoples rights. He plans to do the same as deputy chief.
He has served as vice-president of the Indian Brotherhood (now Dene Nation), followed by a 16-year role in the Legislative Assembly, during which time he acted in different capacities — as premier, Speaker and member of cabinet. He was also elected as president of the Nihtat Gwich'in Council in Inuvik, then later served as president for the Gwich'in Tribal Council.
[I hope] that the tribal council would be the engine and the advocacy process that brings all our people together. - Richard Nerysoo
Nerysoo told CBC about his contributions to discussions surrounding climate change, resource extraction, economic development, and self-government.
He suggested that Indigenous people ought to be "a key player in the actions and activities related to climate change."
He has also promoted the inclusion of Indigenous world views into decision-making surrounding natural resource extraction.
"Unless we are serious about protecting the resources that our creator has given to us, we're going to leave a future where our people might not have access to that kind of healthy food."
Nerysoo also plans to bring some big portfolios to the table if elected.
He wants to renew the effort to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the 94 recommendations coming out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Nerysoo would continue moving toward self-government, but says there needs to be bigger conversations about what that actually means and what the communities would like from the agreement. Is self-government purely a transfer of administrative capacities, Nerysoo asks, or is it much more than that, like creating laws?
"If we are not clear about what we are talking about for self-government ... obviously we're not going to bring our people together," Nerysoo said.
"[I hope] that the tribal council would be the engine and the advocacy process that brings all our people together."