BY MARCUS DAY
Alvin Francis has been re-elected Chief of Nekaneet First Nation by an overwhelming majority.
He will head a leadership team containing two new Councillors: his first cousin Roberta Francis and Wes Daniel.
The fourth member is Shauna Buffalocalf, who will start a second term as Councillor.
The outgoing Councillors are Dale Mosquito, who did not run this time after deciding to take a break from politics, and Doreen Oakes.
Election terms run for three years, so the new leadership will be in place until the end of March 2023.
The Nekaneet elections were held between 10 am and 6 pm on Wednesday, March 25, with strict social distancing rules in force because of the coronavirus crisis.
Only five voters were allowed in the polling station at a single time and two people were stationed at the door to ensure compliance. Anybody with a cough was asked to wear a mask available at the door. Electoral officers wore gloves and masks. Chief Electoral Officer was Alena Louison.
Alvin Francis, who replaced Jordi Fourhorns as Chief in 2017, was voted back in by a big majority, capturing 111 votes. His nearest challenger got 48 votes.
The other vote numbers were Roberta –138; Buffalocalf – 124; and Daniel – 86.
Roberta is the one political newcomer, having decided to take a leave of absence from the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, where she has worked with Correctional Service Canada.
Daniel will be a familiar name in politics to many. He was elected as a Councillor in 2014. On the reserve, he is known for his work in construction, housing, and using heavy equipment.
On Friday, Alvin Francis, who was a Councillor before becoming Chief and also worked as the housing manager on the reserve, said he was delighted by the new leadership team, which combined plenty of energy, enthusiasm and experience.
He believed he and his Council would communicate in a spirit of honesty, openness and willingness to compromise when necessary.
“We will also be drawing on the knowledge and experience of Dale (Mosquito),” he said.
Francis said the main issues facing Nekaneet related to land, housing, post-secondary education and the slow pace of economic development.
One of the big projects on the leadership’s “to do” list is the construction of a gas station along the Trans-Canada Highway.
Last December, the Nekaneet Chief and Council and its membership passed a Commercial Land Designation Vote, allowing the First Nation to create economic development opportunities on the four quarters designated, including two sections along Highway 1.
The development of a gas station off the highway was a centrepiece of the project, creating job opportunities.
The Commercial Land Designation Vote saw 119 ballots cast – 117 voted yes, two voted no. It was the reward for 18 months of hard work by Francis and his team.
“It’s a great day in Nekaneet,” he said afterwards.
On Friday, He said he was anxious to get past bureaucratic delays and see the project moving.
Francis said he was also keen to pursue more partnerships as a way of creating educational and employment opportunities for First Nation members.
An example of this was the Memorandum of Understanding that Nekaneet First Nation, SaskPower and Great Plains College signed last October. The agreement marked the start of a process to add Class 5 Power Engineering courses to the college’s Adult Basic Education offerings. Under the new pathway program, students are allowed to complete their grade 12 education, while also completing the courses and steam-time requirements needed to write the Class Five Power Engineering exam and obtain a Fifth Class Power Engineering licence.
About 90 per cent of the Maple Creek Program Centre’s student body is Indigenous, many from Nekaneet First Nation.
Nekaneet First Nation band members reside on a 5,602-hectare reserve, 121 kilometres southwest of Swift Current. They have a long history in the Cypress Hills, regarding the ancestral land as their home.