In a year when strong leadership has never been more important, two candidates are running to fill the three-year role as BC Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN) regional chief.
One-term incumbent Terry Teegee and challenger Cheryl Casimer each said there are a host of issues that B.C. First Nations need addressed in the next three years, but tackling COVID-19 is top of mind.
For Casimer, this includes ensuring resources reach First Nations people on and off-reserve, gaining better access to COVID-19 information and working to provide everyone with reliable internet access.
“How are you supposed to reach out and have any kind of connection with family, leadership, work or health care?” she asked. “It’s critical that First Nations have that connectivity.”
Casimer is a member of the Ktunaxa Nation, mother of three, and a former chief of the ʔaq̓am First Nation where she grew up. She has served as president of the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Child and Family Services Society, co-chaired the First Nations Summit and been a BCAFN board member for one term. Casimer is currently a member of the BC Minister’s Poverty Reduction Advisory Committee.
Casimer has three main issues she would tackle if elected – the “outstanding land question”, economic development and aligning DRIPA with UNDRIP – all of which she said revolve around the same fact: “First Nations communities need to be respected and recognized as governments.”
She said she’s currently looking into partnering with the University of Victoria law school on developing dispute resolution tools from an Indigenous lens. “I think engagement is going to be critical. We need to maintain open communication.”
Like Casimer, Teegee said the first act of business is to make it through the pandemic. He added that it is imperative that First Nations are part of the conversation on economic recovery.
Teegee is a member of the Takla Nation and father of two. He has a long history in natural resources development and has worked on a multitude of Assembly of First Nations commissions and portfolios, including Indigenous child welfare and UNDRIP. Teegee has also served as the tribal chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council.
For Teegee, the next three years are a time to take solid action. “I think we need to be really progressive and proactive on many outstanding issues.”
This includes acting on housing, mental health, the opioid crisis, the justice system and climate change. “It’s really our generation’s defining moment in terms of what we do on climate change,” Teegee said.
He added that now is the time for society and government to tackle racism – “It starts with education. It’s a learned behaviour.” – and Indigenous child welfare – “We need more autonomy and control over resources to make sure our children are successful in school.”
This year, the BCAFN election will be held online during the assembly’s Nov. 17 annual general meeting via Zoom. Following an all-candidates forum from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., voting will be open from 6 p.m. on Nov. 17 to 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 18. Voters will also have the opportunity to choose their next female youth representative.
The BCAFN encourages registration prior to Nov. 13.