The Yellowknives Dene First Nation community of N’dilo will hold an election for chief on Aug. 23 and four candidates are running.

Chief Ernest Betsina, as the incumbent, is being challenged by Fred Sangris, Shirley Tsetta and Cecilie Beaulieu.

Returning officer Lynda Comerford said a byelection for a council position had been scheduled, however, Ted Tsetta was acclaimed.YKDFN holds an election for chief every two years, with Dettah and N’dilo alternating, and with each position holding a term of four years.

An all-candidates forum is scheduled for Aug. 12 at the N’dilo gym for Yellowknives members only.

Members can vote on election day at one of three locations: the Chief Drygeeese Conference Centre in Dettah, the N’dilo gym, or the Tree of Peace in Yellowknife.

Beaulieu was the only candidate who declined to speak with Yellowknifer.

Ernest Betsina

Incumbent Chief Ernest Betsina said that after finishing two terms, he sees four main issues that he still wants to ensure are tackled. Those include ensuring that the Akaitcho negotiations with the federal government are completed and that stipulations in the agreement involving capital transfers (or land claims money and how it is divided), governance and land quantum are clearly finalized.

Betsina is also continuing to seek an official apology and compensation from the federal government for the long-lasting environmental and social damage of Giant Mine. A campaign needs to continue to get recognition for the suffering that YKDFN members have endured, he said, especially as a federal election is soon expected.

“We need to hear from the Prime Minister so that our members can start healing and get reconciliation, and that is important,” he said. “As far as compensation, we have not received one red cent from Giant in 70 years from operations and we want to get compensation, and that is important.”

Ensuring members see economic benefits maximized over the coming years will be critical, particularly when it comes to securing long-term federal contracts for projects in the area as the territory’s diamond mines close, he said.

Some gains on housing have been made over the last term, including most recently $18.8 million in federal funding for 19 affordable housing units, but this remains an ongoing battle.

“So if I get elected, I want to continue addressing these big four items and I want to keep fighting for YKDFN,” he said. “I believe with the whole experience I have right now, I can use a third term to make a difference for my people.”

Over the last term, Betsina said there have been positive signs of improving relations between YKDFN and the City of Yellowknife, and that it’s important that the two parties work together to advance projects of common interest.

“So, for example, some big economic things like Giant Mine, we can’t handle everything alone with Giant. When we need to help with major projects or contracts, we can’t do that alone. So often what is good for YKDFN is also good with the City of Yellowknife.”

Fred Sangris

Former N’dilo chief Fred Sangris is looking to return to his former role. Sangris led the community between 1998 and 1999 and had a longer term from 2006 to 2010.

He said he was reinvigorated to run after hearing doubts in the community about direction on important issues.

“I was approached by Elders and members in the community who were concerned and wanting updates and to know what is going on with land settlements and land claims as well as the caribou declining, which was the big issue for them,” Sangris said. “They wanted me back.”

With his experience, he said he brings a lot to the table, noting that he’s a strong speaker and good leader, knows as a former politician how to develop action plans and knows how to work with the Dettah chief and council to address community issues head-on.

“There are many issues facing (Indigenous) people politically with Canada, at the Dene Nation level and the Assembly of First Nations, as well as intergovernmental with GNWT and people of Tlicho,” he said. “The Dene have to be pretty strong at those tables to resolve many issues and have a strong voice and strong body to do that.

“That is part of our weakness, is we don’t engage with many things and we have to get involved,” he contended.

In recent years, Sangris has been working as a YKDFN community negotiator and is looking forward to the Akaitcho Treaty Agreement being presented by the chiefs in draft later this year.

After community consultation, the terms are expected to be ratified by Canada and Akaitcho members in a year-and-a-half to two years, he said.

While reaching an agreement is a priority, he said he would like to see N’dilo take advantage of more economic opportunities, including seeing more YKDFN members employed in the city.

“We live in one of the best cities in NWT and it is economically very strong, and we are great contributors to the City of Yellowknife, but what are we getting back from it?” he said.

Youth need support to build skills as journey-persons and tradespeople and to endeavour into areas like tourism, where as naturally skilled hunters and trappers, they could greatly shape the tourism industry, he suggested.

“Now it is not happening and economic potential is very low,” he said. “Employment opportunities with our hunters, trappers and fishermen are not that great.”

Shirley Tsetta

Shirley Tsetta is running for chief of N’dilo for the second time. She was also once a candidate in Dettah.

Among her biggest issues is the lack of information about the Akaitcho negotiations, she said.

“One of the biggest concerns that I’m being told right now is about where we are in terms of negotiations and the fact that there is not enough information going out,” she said. “People are not ready for ratification because people are not aware of what’s in the agreement. That is the number one thing people are telling me. If they are announcing they are close and coming down to ratification, people are not ready for the vote because they haven’t been included.”

Tsetta said that although COVID-19 has reduced the ability for community members to hold public meetings, there should have been more effort to ensure people have been made aware of the status of negotiations.

“The number one thing is to protect our existing treaty rights,” she said. “If you go into self-government, you go into a modern treaty, and that is not the same as the existing treaty.”

She said she has other issues that she’s aspiring to improve, which include the lack of space in N’dilo, especially for housing.

“We are getting too condensed in N’dilo now and people are saying you can’t keep building and building because it leads to more social problems, and even health issues,” she said.

Ultimately, it leads to YKDFN members moving away from the community, so the community has to be creative in solving this issue.

It might require expanding N’dilo’s borders to allow for more residential growth, she said.

Tsetta added that she wants to promote skilled trades and post-secondary opportunities for members as the economy is projected to be impacted by the closure of the NWT’s diamond mines.

“We do have some tradespeople in our community that are journeymen and so trades development is another area that we could focus (on) because it could mean our people can go into small business entrepreneur and open up a shop,” she said.

Finding more apprenticeship opportunities as well as financial assistance for post-secondary education will be important for the community’s economic development, said Tsetta.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. A through and through "County boy" from Prince Edward County, Ont., Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin...

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