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Sayine back again for third time

Things are more complicated than ever for chiefs

Dave Sullivan
Northern News Services

Fort Resolution (Nov 19/01) - This is the third time around for Robert Sayine. Third time as chief, not including a stint in between as MLA.

NNSL photo

Chief Robert Sayine: Always been involved in politics. - Dave Sullivan/NNSL Photo

"For as long as I can remember I've always been involved in politics or the community in some way," he says from an office filled with aboriginal art. He started in the 1960s, as a band councillor.

At one point in 1980 the 58 year-old father of three was chief and MLA at the same time. But it was too much, and he stepped down as chief.

Through all that and until a year ago he operated a fleet of water trucks that served the community in which he's spent his whole life. He sold the business to the municipality.

As he thinks back, Sayine remembers simpler times the last time he was chief two decades ago.

"A lot was different then. Everything's changed. There were no negotiations."

Land claims were a faint hope, but now Sayine finds himself having to learn the intricacies of very complex talks that will have a big impact on the community's future.

All that to do, while the traditional expectations of being chief remain unchanged -dealing with a parade of personal issues, which Sayine politely calls "membership needs."

"I refer people to the band manager, for instance, but they expect the chief to handle it." Requests range from young people needing jobs, to elders needing enough wood to get through winter.

Newly elected Oct. 25 as chief once again in the village of 600, Sayine says he long ago got his drinking under control - a problem he admits affected his jobs as chief and MLA in the past.

Goals this time around include trying to reduce duplication with the municipal council, and bringing people closer together.

"Before land claims everyone worked well together. The reality is we're the same people," he says of the Metis population.

Sayine was sent to residential school 1950 through to 1953, while the grandmother who raised him was sick.

"When my grandmother got out of the hospital she worked at the convent at the school, so I was fortunate in that way if I had a problem."

School never much interested Sayine, and he didn't go back after grade nine. Nor did he spend time in the bush, hunting and trapping.

"I was more geared toward employment."

He had to help support his grandmother, and for years did manual labour like clearing brush.

Between 1964 and 1970 he was timekeeper at Fort Resolution's sawmill. One of his goals as chief is to breathe life into the mill, which went bankrupt in 1999.

Sayine has a 33-year-old daughter in Hay River, and sons ages 30 and 31 living in Fort Resolution.