A new grand chief and deputy grand chief have been elected to lead the Gwich’in Tribal Council.
Kenny Smith will replace outgoing Grand Chief Bobbi Jo Greenland-Morgan, while Kristine McLeod will take over Jordan Peterson’s role as deputy grand chief, according to preliminary election results.
Final polls in the NWT closed on Thursday night at 8pm, with a total of 2,824 ballots having been cast.
Of the 1,024 total votes for grand chief, Smith received 611, with Richard John Blake taking 413.
McLeod won over Richard Nerysoo with 551 votes out of the 1038 cast for deputy grand chief.
The candidates have until Friday at noon to appeal the results.
In July, Smith, originally from Fort MacPherson, told Cabin Radio that he wanted to run to support what he saw as “positive work” happening within communities.
The Chief Jim Koe building in Inuvik. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio
“I think you’re seeing some entrepreneurs that are emerging in the communities,” he said. “We are seeing some younger people getting involved in local politics and those are all great things to see and it’s providing a level of fresh ideas and approaches to everyday living in our communities.”
Promising to work directly with communities in the settlement region, Smith said self-government will be one of his top priorities.
“As a nation, we’ve been self-governing for thousands of years,” he said. “The opportunity in negotiations is that we develop a model for the future that is consistent with our traditional governance.”
“I would just like to have further dialogue with the communities as a nation and collective discussions around where it is that we would like to go, such that we’re all pulling in the same direction and supporting each other, as best as we can.”
Smith is member of the Teetl’it Gwich’in Band Council and currently vice-chair of the the Gwich’in Settlement Corporation. He also has experience in lobbying for the Porcupine Caribou herd, a sacred source of food and culture for the Gwich’in people.
Smith’s election comes weeks after the US Bureau of Land Management announced its plans to move forward with oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, which serves as the calving grounds for caribou across the North.
A ‘bridge between the past and the future’
Incoming Deputy Grand Chief McLeod said she knew wanted to take a leadership role from a young age and that she’s “extremely passionate” about the Gwich’in Nation’s well-being and future.
“Gwich’in are a strong, proud people and we have the potential to use that to our advantage, to ensure a successful and prosperous future for the generations to come,” she said. “We should be proud of how far we’ve come as a nation, and the future possibilities are endless. I’d like to be the bridge between the past and the future.”
Alongside vowing to work on issues such as education, employment, and culture, McLeod said she ran to set an example for her daughter, nieces, and other Gwich’in women.
“I’d like to inspire Gwich’in women to follow their dreams,” she said.
From Inuvik, McLeod is the vice-chair for the Izhii K’aiik’it Tat Gwich’in Society and chair of the Gwich’in Settlement Corporation.