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Four decades of serving Res
Robert Sayine has held elected office almost constantly since the early 1970s

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, November 17, 2014

For more than 40 years, Robert Sayine has been serving Fort Resolution and Deninu Ku'e First Nation.

NNSL photo/graphic

Robert Sayine is a former three-time chief of Deninu Ku'e First Nation in Fort Resolution, and still serves on the band council. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

"I got involved because I figured that I wanted to do something for my community," he said when reflecting on the early 1960s, when he was volunteering with the band as a teenager.

Now 70, Sayine can look back on a political career that includes three terms as Deninu Ku'e chief, many years as a band councillor, time on the settlement council and four years as an Member of the Legislative Assembly.

Sayine first became involved in community affairs when he was 19 after completing Grade 10 at residential school, which he attended both in Fort Resolution and several other communities.

"People always talk about residential school as being the worst thing, but to me the way I see residential school is at least I got my education," he said, adding he also experienced some of the rough treatment that has made residential schools notorious.

Outside of school, Sayine was raised by his grandmother, whose husband had died in the 1930s.

"A lot of people, I think, would have been worse off if it wasn't for the residential school, like myself in the situation I was with my grandmother," he said. "My grandmother worked at the mission for a dollar a day or something, and she tried to raise me that way. But still, if it wasn't for me staying at the residential school, I think I would have had a rough life, or I might not have survived."

The knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic that he gained in residential school helped him get into community politics, he added. "At that time, the little education I had was lots because people didn't really graduate in them days."

His service as a volunteer began by helping interpret and read correspondence for an older generation of chiefs, and as a field worker.

"I really wanted to put my time in the band. I was very well educated," he said. "I could have went for the government and got a good, big pension now. But it was my interest that I wanted to do something for my community, my people."

Sayine was elected to the band council and the settlement council in the early 1970s.

Plus, he was chief in 1978 & 1979, and was MLA for a riding called Great Slave East from 1979-1983.

For a time, he was both MLA and chief, after being elected once again to lead Deninu Ku'e First Nation in 1982.

"It was OK, but it was a lot of work," he said of that dual role. "In one way, it was better for the community because I was the chief and I was an MLA at the same time. I knew what I wanted to get for my people and I made sure I got it."

Sayine recalled that, during his time as chief from 1982-1989, there was a one-council system uniting Deninu Ku'e, the Fort Resolution Metis Council and the settlement council.

"I've always been a great supporter of getting the Metis and the band together," he said. "We're all one people."

Sayine would like to see more community unity in today's Fort Resolution, especially among dissident band members.

"That's the only way," he said. "If we all work together, we'll get more done for the community."

Sayine didn't seek re-election as chief in 1989 to concentrate on his water-delivery business, which he started in 1976 and sold to the municipal government in 2001.

In years before, he also had a number of other jobs - labourer, timekeeper at a sawmill and community manager,

In 1994, he returned to band council - including serving as chief from 2001-2007 - and has been on council ever since, and now is sub-chief.

Plus, he served at various times on the settlement council, the predecessor of today's hamlet council.

Sayine doesn't think he will run for chief again, but he hopes to stay on band council.

"I have more to offer being an elder councillor or whatever you want to call it," he noted. "Throughout these last 40 years, I've developed a lot of knowledge."

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