For the first time in Chiniki history and with just four days to go until voting day, a panel of candidates in the running for either councillor or chief answered questions as part of a debate.
Seven out of 21 councillor candidates and two out of five chief candidates attended – none of which were incumbents. Close to 50 band members spectated. Candidates in attendance included, councillor candidates Frank Powderface, Kirly Daniels, Coralean Twoyoungmen, Travis Rider, Chris Clarke, Brett Benjamin and Fred Holloway, and chief candidates Fred Powderface and Angela Kaquitts.
Over the course of the evening, candidates didn’t contest one another. Instead, they pointed out problems in the status quo – a common theme amongst the Chiniki band members over the years as trust in the leadership has diminished.
“Rather than debating on points among themselves, they brought up those points that need to be considered,” said Sykes Powderface, a Chiniki elder who spoke to the Cochrane Eagle after the event.
All of the candidates called for transparency from Chiniki leadership.
Specifically, many brought up the Chiniki deficit – currently close to $8 million – and the need for salaries of chief, council and administration to be cut and capped. There were also references to the schedule of remuneration and expenses released last year.
The report showed for the year ending March 2016, incumbent Chief Aaron Young made $293,488 in salary and expenses. In the same report, all four councillors, including incumbents Jordie Mark and Lional Wildman – who are running for re-election – each made $89,441. Mark and Wildman also claimed an additional $124,001 and $91,859 respectively in expenses.
“They’re not fighting over themselves, they’re all saying the same thing – let’s get the books out and show the people where the money is going,” Powderface said.
“I thought there was a couple that brought out that there was a need to look at perhaps putting in place policies and procedures for accountability, which is something that is pressing today.”
Powderface added that he was pleased some candidates proposed written reports – a step away from the traditional rout of verbal communication of affairs, which was once based on trust in the leadership.
“That trust and respect is gone,” Sykes said.
Another popular topic of the evening was ramping up both education and career programs within the community.
“They were very, very high on education and the need for education to be able to run their own affairs rather than having people from outside,” he said.
Powderface said he thought the presentations from the candidates were well thought out and said that it was a step forward for the Chiniki election.
“I think its healthy, you can see the new thinking from the candidates that were there.”
“I think the direction that the community needs to go is very clear,” Powderface said. “These candidates were willing to come out and say what they said – they pointed out those realities that are there.”
Kenton LaBelle, a Chiniki band member and the organizer of the event, said he first had the idea to run a debate after noticing a chunk of the population is regularly left in the dark.
“There’s a lot of people that get left out – because usually when people are campaigning they go door-to-door and they talk to them and sit down and have coffee. But some people don’t get visits and they don’t know what’s going on. And those are the ones that get lied to,” LaBelle said.
He added that it’s important people come out to hear various perspectives firsthand, especially for the younger population, saying they are most likely to be pushed aside.
“A lot of the young people don’t get heard. They have voices, they have concerns, they’re young families,” he said. “Those are the ones we’re supposed to be supporting, supposed to be giving them guidance, knowledge and wisdom about life.”
He said not including the younger generation has a ripple effect within the community where not only traditions and language are lost, but the lack of respect tends to push the young towards drugs and alcohol.
LaBelle said he was excited to see the band come together to discuss real issues within the community.
“I just want everybody to hear everything, what’s going to happen going into next year, what’s our nation going to look like?” he said.
“It’s up to us now. We need to stand up as warriors and start taking responsibility, accountability, transparency.”
The election goes tomorrow. Voting begins at 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Bearspaw Youth Centre. Ballots can also be cast at the Chiniki band office in Bighorn and the Wellness Centre in Eden Valley.