Dene National Chief interview: Gerald Antoine
Gerald Antoine, formerly Chief of the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation, is challenging incumbent Norman Yakeleya for the role of Dene National Chief.
Polls open virtually for the first time in the Dene Nation’s history on Wednesday and will remain open until December 9. Cabin Radio interviewed both candidates – you can find Norman Yakeleya’s interview here.
You can hear a segment of Antoine’s interview on the Cabin Radio Lunchtime News podcast for November 30, 2021.
Below, read a full transcript of the interview..
This interview was recorded on Monday, November 29, 2021. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sarah Sibley: What do you consider to be your qualifications for the position?
Gerald Antoine: First, I’m a Dene person and I speak the Dene language fluently. I also speak English fluently and know a little bit of French. I’ve also been mentored by Elders in the many years that I’ve existed. I’ve been relocated to a municipal administrative centre and went to residential schools. I also got fostered out for five years.
I went to Lester B Pearson United World College for two years. I also attended Trent University and had begun to take the Native Studies program; I also took my training in carpentry and was an intern at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. I’ve worked at the Nahanni National Park as an interpreter and I was also chosen by the Dene Youth Assembly in 1977. With the people that were selected with me, we made a presentation to the Dene Assembly in Fort Fitzgerald and that’s where I started being of service. As I went along, I took on more responsibilities.
I became the chief of Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ in 1985 and I was the chief here when Pope John Paul II came to visit us – actually came and landed and visited us. I’ve worked at the regional level and also at the Dene national level.
I also became the Dehcho Grand Chief, I was the first elected Dehcho Grand Chief and then in 2007-08 I was appointed by the Dehcho First Nation to be the grand chief. Six years ago I was elected as Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ chief and I finished my second term on August 23. And this position? I was asked if anybody was interested and people approached me, and I gave them permission to submit my name for this position.
As Chief of the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation, what do you think was the biggest difference you made for your members?
I think the difference I made was to continue upholding the Dene inherent rights and also the Dene treaty relationships, and to really start working in the community to concentrate on family, particularly working to support and assist families and look at having people work together.
Also to realign the energy, to realign the government and community administration to support that process. To assist and support community development, planning and implementation, and economic development that enhances and fosters community wellness.
So I think those are probably the visions. However, the important thing is to actively listen to the voices of our community.
What do you plan to bring to the Dene people if they choose you to lead the Dene Nation?
There was a message given to me by three adopted children: the adopted parents really felt the importance of having these children reconnect with their biological families and relatives. And so the relationship that we built, they adopted me as a friend. They had given me a gift, a pillow. And on that pillow, they have the imprint of their hands. And the message says: ‘Our family, like branches on a tree, we all grow in different directions, yet our roots remains the same.’
Taking a step back and looking at what we went through, who were we the day before treaty? What happened at the day of treaty? What evolved the day after treaty and now how do we move forward?
What I see is that there has been some positive recovery in each of the branches of the Dene family and there’s been some initiative to rebuild. It is important to really look at how we could come together. How can we regroup? How can we simply implement having the Dene family come together to discuss the basic need for healthy families, healthy lifestyles, and a meaningful way of putting food on the table?
More broadly, what do you see the Dene Nation’s role to be?
Collectively, there is an opportunity for us to come together to understand the issues in our communities and also look at what is the commonality.
We need to identify the common initiative, and so the Dene Nation could be able to facilitate and coordinate the work of coming together and working together. We need to engage in step-by-step planning on how we will move forward. Also, we need to make decisions based on these steps from a collective point of view.
The Dene Nation can continue work to realign the energies and really strengthen the Dene roots, so that way it could be able to nourish the Dene branches out there.
If you were the Dene National Chief right now, what would you be doing differently?
This position is to uphold the rights of the Dene – the inherent rights – and the Dene treaty relationship.
And also, to work with the Dene family to discuss and develop the necessary initiative so that way there are supports and assistance for the Dene family and for all these Dene branches out there. And to collectively give voice to the Dene family.
How would you navigate the relationship between the Dene Nation and the territorial and federal government when it comes to different issues and advocating for funding?
Well one is that they have to acknowledge that we’re the original landowners – we’re the original people of this area.
There is a real need for them to work with the Dene family. Also, they need to acknowledge the relationship that the Dene have, and one of the main relationships is the relationship that the Dene have with the land and also the relationship that the Dene have with each other, their family, and their community of families, and also the nation of families.
They also need to implement the treaty relationship that our Elders had understood it to be. So, there is a real need for that relationship and that collaboration from that point of view.
The Dene Nation has strived to become a voice on education, health, housing, the environment, land, and justice, to name a few areas. How do you aim to continue that work?
We need to believe in the words of our ancestors, believing in and trusting ourselves. We need to make decisions collectively.
We also need to look at the work plan to implement those decisions. We need to establish partnerships and alliances to ensure that as Dene, we are able to maintain our place in the community of nations.
And identifying common initiatives, actively listening to each other, engaging in step-by-step planning and making decisions based on those steps.
Anything else you would like to add?
Just one thing: this hope of a good life for our children, our grandchildren, and the ones who are yet to come that this work is based on.
It is also the work of the previous generations who have sacrificed themselves in knowing that the future generations will need space to exist as per the way that the Creator had made the instructions.
So, for our children to be good people and to have a good life, only we can do that. It is our hope that this work will continue to do that in some way.