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Four candidates vying for chief

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 7, 2011

DENINU KU'E/FORT RESOLUTION - Four people are running to become the next chief of Fort Resolution's Deninu Ku'e First Nation (DKFN).

The candidates are Acting Chief Louis Balsillie, George Larocque, Tom Unka and Therese Villeneuve, who lost to Balsillie by a single vote in a 2009 election that was overturned in court.

Nominations closed Feb. 3.

The new chief will be elected for four years in the vote on Feb. 11.

Balsillie, 50, said a number of initiatives have been undertaken in his time as chief and acting chief, such as a daycare, a youth centre, a project to build core boxes for exploration companies, and a recent effort to get an impact benefits agreement from De Beers Canada.

"Things are starting to look good for our First Nation," he said.

Balsillie has been acting chief or chief for more than three years. In all, he has spent about 15 years on DKFN council.

This election is important for DKFN, he said, adding it is time for band members to stop fighting. "Now we should be moving ahead with things in our community, not fighting among ourselves."

Balsillie hopes the election goes well and is not challenged in court.

Similar to the last election there will not be proxy voting, which was partly why the election was challenged in court.

"A lot of people have concerns with proxy votes. We don't want to have another appeal on this and go through the whole thing again with the courts," Balsillie said, adding a judge ruled in a decision last year that proxy voting is not required under the band's election code.

Unka, 60, said change is needed at DKFN.

"I think the band owes the community a change," he said. "The current structure is not working for the people."

Unka said, if he is elected chief, he would focus on education, transparency and accountability, and dealing with the band's debt.

Plus, he said it is important for the band to have a chief who is fluent in Chipewyan, adding he can speak and write the language.

Unka's political experience includes about two years on the settlement council in the 1970s, during which time he was chairperson. In the late 1970s, he also was a DKFN councillor.

Currently, he is environment manager with the Fort Resolution Metis Council, although he has taken a leave from that job to run for chief.

Unka believes this is an important election for Deninu Ku'e First Nation.

"It's right at the turning point," he said.

Larocque, 51, said the band needs a fresh start.

The candidate noted he is an honest person who can fill the role as chief.

One of his first goals would be to straighten out the "total disarray" that exists in the band office, he said. "It's more like a daycare than an office."

Larocque said he would also focus on economic development.

"Right now, we're at the bottom of the barrel for things like that," he said.

In particular, he said DKFN can't afford to be taking on a billion-dollar company like De Beers.

Larocque is a welder and an owner of J's Bed & Breakfast.

His political experience involves six months as a councillor with the Hamlet of Fort Resolution.

Like the other candidates for chief, Larocque believes this election is important.

"It's very, very important because we've been stuck in neutral for the last four year," he said.

Despite repeated attempts, Therese Villeneuve could not be contacted by News/North for comment.

After Villeneuve lost the 2009 election she was one of the people who launched the court challenge that overturned that election.

Five councillors will also be elected in the upcoming vote - three of them for four years and two for two years.

The candidates for council include Balsillie and Villeneuve. If one happens to be elected both chief and councillor, that person would resign as councillor.

The other candidates for council are Carol Collins, Dave Pierrot, Raymond Simon, Racheal Lafferty, Stanley Beck, Angela McKay, Robert Sayine and Frank V. Lafferty.

The new vote may end an unsettled time in DKFN politics which began when Bill Norn was elected chief in 2007. Norn was suspended by band council five months later, dismissed at the end of 2007, and filed an unresolved lawsuit in 2008 claiming unjust dismissal.

After Norn's dismissal, a faction of the band argued for a new election, which eventually led to a vote on Nov. 2, 2009. However, the results of that election were overturned by a court decision.

Proxy votes and mail-in ballots will not be allowed for the Feb. 11 election and advance poll on Feb. 7.

That means band members will have to show up in person at the DKFN council chambers to cast a ballot.

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