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Three vie for Tlicho grand chief

Andrew Livingstone
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 28, 2011

TLICHO - Two candidates running for Tlicho grand chief agree the way the First Nation operates as a government and interacts with its people needs to drastically change.

For the last four months Alphonse Apples has been holding the position of grand chief on an interim basis, after Joe Rabesca resigned his position in mid-October amidst a flurry of controversy, both as grand chief and in his personal life. On March 22 the Tlicho nation will go to the polls to elect a new leader who will complete the remainder of the current term, ending in September 2013.

Leon Lafferty, James Wah-Shee and Edward Erasmus are vying for the leadership role with hopes of bringing stability and direction back to the region. Erasmus was unavailable before press time.

Lafferty and Wah-Shee said for the last five years government has been at a disconnect with the people it serves. Wah-Shee said a proper strategic plan for program delivery and the future of the government - both from the political and business standpoint - needs to be in place and it's something he hopes to work toward if elected.

"There's been concerns expressed by the people in the communities and a lot of questions are being raised about how we went about implementing the agreement," he said, adding a more open and transparent government is needed. "There was no plan in place, or strategic plan in terms of how the implementation will be done phase by phase. It requires the full participation of the people. It's their agreement, their government and their corporation. They should be involved in how it's managed."

Wha-Shee also wants more accountability to the people for the money the government spends.

Lafferty said the government has lost its identity since 2005 when the Tlicho agreement was signed and he wants to bring the focus back to the people, programs and services in the region's four communities - Gameti, Behchoko, Wekweeti and Whati.

"It's time to bring back what the elders wanted," he said, speaking from his home in Behchoko. "We've gone away from our treaty rights."

Lafferty said equal distribution of programs and services is one of his priorities.

"There hasn't been responsible spending," he said.

Wah-Shee added the disconnect between the people and government has created an imbalance of funding for programs and services within the communities.

"There needs to be fair and equal distribution of programs and services," he said, adding if the government becomes more focused it could start tackling larger issues affecting the communities, such as housing and infrastructure.

When it comes to the devolution agreement-in-principle, Lafferty said "it's going to happen whether we like it or not" and the Tlicho should be involved in the negotiations.

"It could allow us to re-open the Tlicho Agreement and take a look at it," he said, adding it has the potential to benefit the Tlicho people.

Both Lafferty and Wah-Shee are no strangers to territorial and aboriginal politics. Wah-Shee served in the legislative assembly from 1975 to 1987 and Lafferty for one term from 1999 to 2003.

After losing his seat in a tight race to Henry Zoe, Lafferty went on to be chief of Behchoko from 2005 to 2009 before losing to current chief Clifford Daniels.

At the time of seeking his first term as MLA, Wah-Shee was president of the Dene Nation, only to be removed by the membership for going against the wishes of the Dene chiefs.

Soon after being elected to the legislative assembly, Wah-Shee resigned, along with Great Bear-Mackenzie MLA George Barnaby, due to what they considered a lack of concern over aboriginal issues by the legislative assembly. Wah-Shee was re-elected two years later.

Erasmus, a former chief of Behchoko, has fallen short of being named grand chief twice. In 2005, he finished second to George Mackenzie and again in 2009 to Joe Rabesca. Erasmus served as grand chief from 1990 to 1993 and was a sub-chief for six years before that. Both Erasmus and Wah-Shee spent a total of 28 years combined working on Tlicho Agreement, eventually seeing it through to fruition in 2005.

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