There will be a change at the top of the Dene Nation on Aug. 22 as National Chief Bill Erasmus steps down from his tenure of close to 30 years.

Norman Yakeleya, Richard Edjericon and Eileen Marlowe have set the stage for what should be an interesting race for the next three-year term with the organization.

It’s been 119 years since the signing of Treaty 8, 96 years since the signing of Treaty 11 and 40 years since the Indian Brotherhood changed its name to the Dene Nation; many land claims and self-government negotiations have been settled and some still remain to be negotiated.

That brotherhood was pivotal in pushing the territories to adopt representative government and this election will provide Dene voters a real choice in how the nation moves forward into its next four decades.

All three candidates spoke of the importance of having the guidance of elders. Edjericon talked of the importance of having the oversight of elders from each region. Yakeleya spoke of perhaps creating an executive council of elders and Marlowe said elders should play a role through an elders’ council or senate.

The importance of elders’ wisdom and the role they will play will certainly have a deep impact on the nation going forward, because you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.

As Edjericon said, “We need the elders and we know there’s a lot of elders that started the Indian Brotherhood and Dene Nation. We must continue to remember them.”

Through those early years of the Indian Brotherhood, the collective tackled the federal government on not only land claims and self-governance, but on changes to social and health issues. The Dene Nation has managed, over the past 12 years, to claw its way out of financial turmoil and infighting to a more robust advocacy and watchdog agency.

One thing mentioned by all candidates is that there needs to be an agreement – by all five First Nations governments under the Dene National Assembly – on direction, communication and a strategy that focuses efforts through unity to keep moving ahead.

Marlowe said this on the need for unity and effective representation: “… the direction is going to have to come from the communities and the regions. At the end of the day, this advocacy organization is about them and their issues and their voices and their concerns and ensuring that it’s heard.”

And as Yakeleya said in regards to improving the lives of the Dene people: “… it’s a team effort, in co-operation with the grand chiefs, by forming a stronger alliance that supports the mission of the Dene Nation.”

Having the council of elders and youth could be just what the organization needs to bring that unity and strength to the Dene moving ahead.

We wish all three good luck as they embark on their respective campaigns. It’s not going to be an easy job for whoever takes the helm. But, as the outgoing Erasmus has done over almost three decades through taking on devolution; fighting for Indigenous fishing and hunting rights; protecting the environment; and advocating for more inclusive education, better health care and other treaty rights; it’s a position of critical importance for the Dene to continue making strides.

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