“I believe in strong governance as a basis for how a First Nation operates,” said Gerry Cheezie, the newly elected chief of Smith’s Landing First Nation.
“I want to make sure we have proper policies and procedures in places so people are treated fairly and consistently.”
Cheezie, who found out on Tuesday night he’d won the election by 12 votes, listed a new administration building and protecting the First Nation’s lands, waters, and resources as some of his top priorities.
He received 70 votes to his opponent Wilfred Paulette’s 58.
The new chief will be joined on council by newly elected councillors Geronimo Paulette, Thaidene Paulette, Delphine Paulette-Clark, and Tony Vermillion.
“I’ve always had an interest in the well-being of my community and, when the election came up, I was asked by members to run,” said Cheezie.
After discussing it with his family, Cheezie decided to run to “help move [his] community forward.”
Cheezie has previously served three terms as Smith’s Landing’s chief in the early 70s, and one term as Vice-Chief South for the Dene Nation.
“I am well aware of issues that face us on a national level,” he said.
Cheezie explained the new council will meet within the next week to set out its priorities for its three-year term.
“The protection of our land and resources is one of my strongest priorities,” he said. “We’ll be making industry and different levels of government aware … of the impacts on our land and water.”
Smith’s Landing, which is on the Alberta side of the Northwest Territories-Alberta border, has repeatedly stated it is never consulted on big projects taking place in southern regions of the province, such as dams and oil sands, which still have an impact on its lands and waters.
“We’ll be more active,” he said. “We will no longer be ignored – we will be at the table, defending our position.”
Another of his goals is to get a new administration building built. Right now, Smith’s Landing operates out of a converted trailer and another smaller, detached building.
Cheeszie also offered a “warm congratulations” to everyone running in the election.
“We will move forward as nation if we put aside petty differences and work together for the future of our community,” he said.
The First Nation has been without a chief since May 10, when councillors ousted former Chief John Tourangeau – saying he had failed to meet with council following allegations that he bullied staff members.
The election had been called prior to Tourangeau’s removal.
CBC reports Tourangeau, months before his expulsion, filed documents requesting a review of his multiple suspensions and salary reductions as determined by councillors.