The ballots have been cast, and results are in.
Members of the Smith’s Landing First Nation in Northern Alberta, just minutes away from Fort Smith, have elected Gerry Cheezie as their new chief. Cheezie was in leadership back in the 1970’s and 80’s when the community shared a band council with Salt River, formerly known by members as the “Fitz-Smith band.”
He returns after working for years in housing with the territorial government and Yellowknives Dene First Nation.
“Our number of members is different but nothing else has really changed. We still have our struggles with social issues for elders, youth, and a housing shortage. We all have a part to play in that, and different players involved and are still being ignored and not taken seriously. It’s a challenge to be heard and respected,” Cheezie told CKLB after the election.
Joining him on council are councilors Geronimo and Thaidene Paulette, along with Delphine Paulette-Clarke and Tony Vermillion.
“We are going to continue to stand up for our land, our rights and the protection of the environment. We’re on the Slave River where the Peace and Athabasca flow into the North right through our community. Any development that happens upstreams affects us. The provincial governments and industry thinks our concerns are minimal and we shouldn’t have to worry about anything, but that’s not that case,” added Cheezie.
Before this week’s election, the First Nation was dealing with a contentious issue, ousting Chief John Tourangeau. According to community members he was removed from office by the council after allegations of bullying staff and multiple suspensions. Tourangeau is suing the First Nation in federal court for an estimated $600,000 dollars.
“I wish all the people who ran good luck, the people make the final decision. We had a good turn-out and I think we will move forward in a positive manner so everyone benefits from what we do, and cease the infighting and move forward in a positive manner, Cheezie said in closing.
The new council and chief will sit down in the next week to start their strategic three year plan.