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Squamish Nation election results signal change

Results from the Squamish Nation election this weekend show there’s a changing of the guard underway that could spell a change in direction for the band council.
Squamish Nation pole blessing

Results from the Squamish Nation election this weekend show there’s a changing of the guard underway that could spell a change in direction for the band council.

Eight new councillors, running on a slate of advancing ideas of a younger generation, were elected to the 16-member Squamish Nation council, along with eight incumbent councillors.

The result is an indication of “the people wanting some sort of change,” said Dustin Rivers, one of the new first-time councillors, who topped the polls with 634 votes. “It was a big change election.”

Rivers, who also goes by the traditional name Khelsilem, said topping the list of concerns was “our council was making a lot of big decisions without engaging our members.”

All eight of the new councillors – who in addition to Khelsilem include Jacob Lewis, Marcus Wooden, Deanna Lewis, Kristen Rivers, Brandon Darbyshire-Joseph, Joyce Williams and Orene Askew – are under the age of 36, said Rivers, reflecting that “40 per cent of our voting population is under the age of 36.”

”We definitely knew it was the young people who could decide the outcome. They had the most to gain and the most to lose depending on the outcome of the election.”

The Vote a New Nine campaign is the first time there’s been an “open and public slate” running in the Squamish Nation elections, said Rivers, although informal coalitions have existed in the past.

Among priorities for the new councillors is greater consultation of Squamish Nation members in making big decisions, changing election rules to allow mail-in ballots for members living off-reserve and creating more housing for people who want to live on-reserve.

“Housing is a really big issue for our members,” said Rivers. “We’re being priced out of our own territory and forced to move elsewhere.”

Among the incumbent councillors who ran in this election, those re-elected included Chief Ian Campbell, Wilson Williams, Christopher Lewis, Alroy Baker, Carla George, Joshua Joseph, Richard Baker and Deborah Baker.

Jennifer Campo was voted into the elected role of band manager with 530 votes – a position that has been vacant since former band manager Glen Newman was suspended after an investigation revealed a significant portion of $1.5 million from the band’s “emergency fund” wasn’t properly accounted for.

Campbell said he applauded all of the candidates for being willing to represent their nation. “I’m really pleased that a lot of young people came forward,” he said. “It’s a sign they are taking things seriously.”

But Campbell said there will likely be a learning curve among new council members about “how you effect positive change.”

For instance, Campbell said it is often not possible for governments to make decisions on issues like land development or the Woodfibre LNG project without having access to detailed technical and legal analysis “as opposed to just predetermining outcomes without proper process.”

Campbell said he is in agreement that communication with band members must improve.

“We’re relay runners,” he said of council. “We accept the baton” from past leaders of the nation. “It’s exciting times.”

A total of 1,350 people cast ballots out of 2,957 eligible voters.

Councillors are elected for a four-year term.