Past Chief Wilbert Kochon speak sat a memorial for those found at former residential school sites. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio
Richard Kochon has been elected as the new chief of the Behdzi Ahda First Nation (BAFN) in Colville Lake, defeating his brother and two-term incumbent Wilbert Kochon.
Richard was Chief for over 20 years before being defeated by Wilbert in the First Nation’s 2016 election.
Richard said his community has seen many losses in recent years, including the passing of Elder Gabriel Kochon last year. His priority as chief is to help his community heal.
He imagines developing further on-the-land opportunities to support the healing process, but said he will be consulting the community about what it needs.
Richard said the community was hit hard by Covid-19. In August 2021, more than a third of Colville Lake had contracted the virus.
“We weren’t really prepared,” he said. “We have to be prepared next time for that kind of emergency, and work together more to help one another.”
Elected councillors are Roland Codzi, Charles Gully, Theresa Kakfwi and Natanda Oudzi.
Custom election confusion
This was the second time BAFN used its custom election code, implemented in 2017.
The new election system created four new Got’ine councillor positions, David Codzi, the town’s acting senior administrative officer, told Cabin Radio.
Codzi explained that Got’ine is the word used to refer to a family, or clan. Four Goti’nes came together to form Colville Lake.
According to Codzi, the old band election system privileged the largest clan in Colville Lake. For many years, this clan dominated seats on the band council and other Got’ines did not succeed at securing equal representation.
The new custom election code was designed to ensure each clan got a seat at the table.
Codzi said there is still confusion around how nominations and voting for these four new councillor positions actually works.
Part of the problem, he said, was the list of candidates running for election was still changing the day before the election was scheduled.
“The list should have been stabilized sooner,” Codzi noted.
Since Tuesday, Codzi said he’s heard a few people are considering appealing the election because of lack of clarity around nominations and voting procedure.
Outgoing Chief Wilbert Kochon said he has also heard from some community members suggesting he appeal the election, but he plans to wait until he returns home from this week’s AFN meetings in Vancouver before making a decision.
Wilbert said either way, the elected Chief and council will only serve a temporary term until the First Nation’s Dehlà Got’įne self-government agreement comes into effect.
While this new government was originally expected for 2021, pandemic-related delays pushed this date back to 2024, which will be 10 years after the negotiations for self-government began.
Codzi said the newly elected council will have to decide whether it’s going to use the same election code or try to design a new, less confusing system, which would need to approved once again by the membership.
Wilbert said clarifying the election process is urgent.
“We have to fix it now so we can include it into our self-government,” said Wilbert. “If we don’t fix it, it will happen again and be more troublesome.”
Outgoing Chief Wilbert Kochon belives lack of trust contributed to election loss
The outgoing chief received 28 votes, losing to Richard by 17 votes.
He was attending the Assembly of First Nation’s (AFN) annual general meeting in Vancouver in his position as Grand Chief of Sahtu Dene Council at the time of the election.
For this reason, he said he did not have time to campaign.
He said he thinks members of the First Nation may have lost trust in his leadership because he was often busy with other positions he also held and did not report back to members on what he was working on.
He believes this lack of trust may have been partly responsible for his loss in this election.
Wilbert still pointed to several accomplishments he felt proud to have lead during his time as chief, including the advancement of self-government negotiations, soon-to-arrive funding for housing, and the design and construction of a new school.
“That’s going to be ours and that’s the one thing I’m really proud of is designing the school and then working with engineers to build it the way we want to build,” Wilbert said.
Trudy Kochon, Wilbert and Richard’s sister, also ran for chief, receiving 16 votes.