Ndilǫ chief candidates share their platforms ahead of Monday vote

·6 min read
Ernest Betsina, Shirley Tsetta, Fred Sangris and Cecilie Beaulieu are vying to become the next Yellowknives Dene First Nation chief for Ndilo. (CBC News - image credit)
Ernest Betsina, Shirley Tsetta, Fred Sangris and Cecilie Beaulieu are vying to become the next Yellowknives Dene First Nation chief for Ndilo. (CBC News - image credit)

Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) members are going to the polls next week to choose the next chief of Ndilǫ.

The candidates are incumbent Ernest Betsina, Shirley Tsetta, Fred Sangris and Cecilie Beaulieu.

Members can vote on Aug. 23 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. There are voting stations at the Chief Drygeese Conference Centre, the Ndilǫ Gym and the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre. Advanced voting wrapped up on Aug. 13, but if someone cannot be present on election day, and need information about how to cast their vote, they can contact Lynda Comerford at 867-445-1081.

The CBC asked each candidate to discuss their goals if elected.

Shirley Tsetta

Tsetta says her top goal is to bring the Akaitcho Agreement to ratification, which would involve hiring field workers to consult with members on "difficult points" like taxation, land selection, treaty rights and caribou management.

She wants to improve communication with members to boost their participation in governance and matters like impact benefit agreements (IBA), an area where she is currently employed.

Tsetta wants a review of IBA payments, which are held in trust, and to evaluate if they could be directly dispersed to members or put toward harvester support programs.

"I always put the interests of the Yellowknives Dene forward. I've been in that role for a long time," she said.

She spent 11 years on the Akaitcho Business Development Corporation board, and has been a board member for Det'on Cho, the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, and secretary treasurer for the Native Women's Association of the N.W.T.

Tsetta said she'll support aspiring YKDFN businesses, and support training for trades so that members can access contract opportunities across the Akaitcho region.

She has a diploma in management studies and social work and is undertaking a Bachelor of Justice Studies program at Royal Roads, to support self-government work.

To combat low graduation rates, Tsetta suggests incentives for youth to finish Grade 12 through student financial assistance. She supports more on-the-land programming with elders to preserve culture.

Tsetta said she would like to reintroduce letters of guarantee that would enable members to go to a bank, get a mortgage and build their own homes. Previous programs, including a home assistance program, were phased out.

"Now, there really isn't anything in place for our members unless you have a big infrastructure fund coming from the federal government and the GNWT for housing programs," she said.

As a survivor of Breynat Hall residential school, Tsetta says she will work to implement Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations including programming for intergenerational impacts. She also plans to look at the cows and plows provision similar to payouts given to other Treaty 8 nations.

"As long as people put their trust in me that they want me to represent them, I will do it all the time. I wouldn't say no," she said.

Ernest Betsina

Alex Brockman/CBC
Alex Brockman/CBC

Betsina is running for a third term as chief, and sat on council for two four-year terms before that.

The Akaitcho negotiations are his top priority, as YKDFN is requesting an internal session with Łútsël K'é Dene First Nation and the Deninu Kųę́ First Nation to discuss three key items: capital transfer — which is how land claims money will be divided up — division of land, and governance.

If those items are not agreeable, the agreement needs to be brought back to the membership to seek a mandate, said Betsina.

He plans to continue pursuing an apology and compensation for Giant Mine, which he says is urgent given the imminent federal election.

Compensation funds could be funnelled into infrastructure, land planning, environmental support, housing money, a new Dechı̨ta Nàowo training centre, school additions in Ndilǫ and a new gymnasium, and a new gym and daycare for Dettah.

Betsina said a youth plan should focus on Grade 12 and post-secondary education, and to boost trades to stimulate the local economy. He is also eyeing an economic development plan for YKDFN as mines, a significant employer, approach closure.

Betsina said he brought $18.8 million in direct federal funding so that YKDFN could build four four-bedroom houses in Ndilǫ and four four-bedroom houses in Dettah and 11 apartment units. He'd like to get another "big win" for YKDFN members so they can start developing on land in the near future.

"Now that I know how the system works within the territorial government, the federal government, the city of Yellowknife and industry … all this valuable experience that I gained, it's very important that I continue," he said.

Fred Sangris

Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC
Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC

As a cultural historian and community negotiator, former chief Sangris is focused on land rights — from completing a land claims settlement, to warding off unauthorized occupancy as YKDFN pushes to conclude negotiations, and protecting caribou.

He said he can bring Akaitcho to the finish line. Sangris says he brings a wealth of experience, such as expertise in reading documents and being involved with negotiations for the last 18 years. He is the third generation of his family to do so.

Sangris said he'll push for tourism benefits and community land-use planning because of Yellowknife's considerable population growth.

"We, as Indigenous first nations, have the right to select lands … People have a treaty right to hunt, harvest, but if people are building all over the land and it's not managed, well then, there's a problem. It's a violation of our treaties," said Sangris.

He said Yellowknives Dene spend considerably in the city, but are not treated as partners in economic development on their homelands.

When Sangris was chief in 2006 and 2007, there was talk of creating a third community for YKDFN.

"We live on a little island smaller than Hawaii," he said. "This place has to expand."

After being sent to residential school, Sangris went back to the land for nine years before working for his first nation. As a land-based culture educator and historian, Sangris believes on-the-land programming will be crucial to creating the next generation of leaders. He says those leaders must be able to work with the Akaitcho Treaty Agreement to advance YKDFN's future.

Sangris said members that live outside of the community don't always have access to information about programs and services but are "entitled to benefits and whatever programs we have."

This includes Yellowknives Dene who are taking schooling, education or working in other parts of the country.

Cecilie Beaulieu

Beaulieu is a current council member. She served as councillor in the late 1990s and held a seat on council for 12 years from 2002 to 2015, states the YKDFN website.

She speaks her language, and worked for the federal government for more than 30 years. She has sat on committees for housing, education and human resources and was a board member for Det'on Cho.

Beaulieu declined an interview with CBC. She agreed to respond to questions via text, but did not end up providing CBC with responses. She did, however, participate in an all-candidates forum in Ndilǫ.

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