KITSELAS VOTED in a new chief councillor and new members to council during elections June 10.
Of the 17 candidates, now new-to-council Cora Kennedy and Wilfred Bennett Sr. will join Joe Bevan and Gerald Seymour, who have already served terms. The fifth seat on council is yet to be filled, as Judy Gerow was elected for two positions.
Gerow takes over the new chief councillor position from outgoing Glenn Bennett, beating him by 11 votes in a six-candidate race for the spot. A by-election will be held to fill her seat on council.
Gerow, the first female chief councillor in nearly 50 years, has 12 years experience on council, one year working in the Kitselas Treaty office, and was part of the group that started the Kitselas Volunteer Fire Department.
And according to her, there couldn’t be a more exciting yet challenging time to be chief councillor.
This is because the Kitselas are taking steps towards self government, a process that involves restructuring laws, lives and community attitudes, she explained.
To her, the change is about empowerment.
“I read the Indian Act,” she said, “and was upset by how much it controls us.”
It was a moment that ignited her passion to change it.
Now, the systems under which the band council operates align with laws made by Canada’s government.
“We have no rights,” she said, noting that despite the fear of change being experienced by many in the community, she firmly believes that self government is for the best.
“It’s exciting,” she said, adding that to build trust as a leader, community involvement will be key.
She plans to encourage community members to attend council meetings more often.
Formerly, despite being open, meetings were held in smaller rooms with not much space.
Gerow said that by moving the meetings to a larger space, like the Kitselas Community Hall, and inviting people to the meetings, the Kitselas council will be more transparent, thereby building trust.
Gerow plans to keep the process of change slow-and-steady so that people can adjust.
She said job training and education will be key focuses so when the time comes to drop the Indian Act, people will have the resources they need to earn an income.
“Right now, some people are comfortable maintaining the status quo waiting for that one check a month rather than seeing the opportunities that are all around them,” she said.
Gerow is mindful that part of motivating people to break dependency on the Indian Act is by supporting them emotionally and psychologically too. Anxiety and fear are understandable, she said.
“Right now, if things don’t go right, people can blame the Indian Act,” she said.
“But being self governing, it’s going to be up to us. If things don’t go right, it’s our fault.”
Gerow is looking into support programs and also a local employment counsellor.
“We have to make it work,” she said.
“That’s the exciting part.”