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Gwich'in Tribal Council election
Wilson says he's a manager
James A. Wilson says he's not a politician, he's a manager; if the Gwich'in people feel that's what they need, then he's ready to take the job

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Monday, November 10, 2014

James A. Wilson says he is not a politician, he is a manager.

NNSL photo/graphic

James A. Wilson: not a politician but has experience in pulling groups out of the red. -

The 71-year-old said making the decision to run for Gwich'in Tribal Council president to serve out the remainder of Robert Alexie Jr's term wasn't an easy one, but age had nothing to do with it.

Alexie's death was a surprising and shocking blow to the Gwich'in. He was found dead beside the Dempster Highway outside of Fort McPherson, June 9.

"I think this tragic accident that we've just experienced, it's a real blow to everybody and I went up to the funeral, I came back and I was approached again by a number of members, you know, 'would you consider this seriously,'" said Wilson.

Wilson, originally from Fort McPherson, has called Whitehorse home for the most part since the late 1970s.

He attended residential school in Inuvik until 1964. He said on the morning of his last day of exams before graduating, he already had his suitcase packed.

"When I finished I walked out of there, hopped in the truck and ended up on a drilling rig."

Not long after the GTC was established in 1992, the North called him back.

Wilson served a one-year term as GTC vice president in 1996.

"At the time, I think things were so chaotic and there was very little time to spend quality time with the community corporations," he said of his time on the executive.

He has also served as senior administrative officer of Fort McPherson, where he put together a community sustainability plan, and managed local development corporations, including those in Aklavik and Fort McPherson in the late 1990s.

"These corporations were really in bad shape. They were either bankrupt or near bankrupt, so there was a real effort to revitalize the business," he said.

The role of fixer seemed to stick after that, and Wilson went on to manage development corporations in Carmacks, Yukon, and elsewhere across the country.

"The Carmacks job was probably the biggest job that I had in terms of revitalizing these corporations. It was totally bankrupt," he said.

Wilson is campaigning on promises to refocus the purpose of the GTC, promote education among beneficiaries and open the lines of communication between the public and all board members on council to get everyone back on the same page.

"I don't like politics, so I really want to focus on management. I don't really want to go out and cut ribbons and have my picture on the front page. I'm kind of the guy in the background who does the paperwork and fixes problems," he said.

In many respects, Wilson feels the 22-year-old tribal council has lost its way. Set up as a body to implement and protect the land claim, politics and in-fighting about the priorities of the day have divided the council and put strains on its finances.

To that end, he pledges to put together a comprehensive five or 10-year strategic plan before the next election in 2016.

If he is chosen as the next president on Nov. 17, Wilson said he has no problem relocating his life to Inuvik.

"All my life, I've been on the move so this is not something new. I've worked all across this country. I've worked right in the heart of bureaucracy in the heart of Ottawa right on the 17th floor," he said.

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