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Petition protests chief's 10-year term

Nathalie Heiberg-Harrison
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 5, 2011

On Dec. 12 residents of Aklavik will head to the polls, as they do every two years, to elect a new mayor.

In comparison, the Ehdiitat Gwich'in Council - one of the community's three local governing bodies - hasn't held an election for chief in 10 years, leaving some beneficiaries wondering what's taking so long.

"Is someone asleep at the wheel or has this been intentional?" asked John Dixon, a Fort McPherson resident, in a letter to News/North on Nov. 17.

"You would think that people would be very concerned but they do not seem to be. You would think that the (Gwich'in) Tribal Council would step in to solve this dilemma that people of Aklavik are experiencing but they do not."

It was this sentiment that led residents to create a petition, which they plan to present to the tribal council, asking for regular elections, transparency and public meetings from the Ehdiitat Gwich'in Council.

According to Danny Greenland, chief of the Aklavik Indian Band - the community's third local governing body, more than 50 people who are eligible to vote have signed their names.

"It's a dictatorship," he said. "It's been going on so long that the people have just accepted it and never fought it until I came along and shook the sugar tree."

Since the petition began, Greenland said he has been in communication with the Gwich'in Tribal Council, and they have promised to visit the community.

Election bylaws need to be set in stone, he said, and beneficiaries have to be kept in the know.

"We just want some transparency, and we get the cold shoulder and the blank stare - like we're asking stupid questions. Anybody in a democratic society would agree with me. This is not right," Greenland said.

Phillip Blake, president of the Gwichya Gwich'in Council in Tsiigehtchic, wouldn't comment on Ehdiitat Gwich'in Council matters, but said it's up to Chief Charles Furlong to amend the election rules.

In Tsiigehtchic, elections for chief are called every two years, but Blake said he might be making changes to that soon.

"I believe we're going to be extending the term for chief this term to three or four (years), one or the other," he said.

In response to the petition, the Ehdiitat Gwich'in Council posted a sign in Aklavik on Nov. 24 promising to hire a returning officer and hold an election.

"Please be advised that a returning officer will be hired to conduct and oversee the upcoming elections: The returning officer will be compiling the data to prepare for the elections and the information will be posted in the public places for participants to review," it read.

A date for the election has not yet been set.

The Ehdiitat Gwich'in Council and the Gwich'in Tribal Council didn't respond to requests for comment by press deadline.

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