Cliff Atleo has pledged his commitment and service to the new president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.
Challenger Deb Foxcroft of Tseshaht was elected to the position in a three-ballot race on Sept. 23 at Maht Mahs gym, where this year’s Annual General Meeting is being held.
Atleo was speaking after a dinner last night that celebrated the 40th anniversary of the tribal council. The directors and the tribal council executive, along with staff, presented the outgoing president a gift for his four years and nine months of hard work at the head of the organization.
Atleo said it was a privilege to hold the position and work on behalf of Nuu-chah-nulth-aht.
The election results were unusual for a two-candidate race. This year’s election was a closer one than many had predicted, and after the first two ballots, neither candidate had been able to reach the vote threshold—50 per cent plus one of the unspoiled ballots—as set out in the tribal council’s Constitution and Bylaws.
There was an audible gasp of surprise from the table of delegates when it was announced they would be heading to a second ballot. But beating the odds to have it happen a second time, despite the fact that the number of votes cast was different in rounds one and two, had delegates scratching their heads and looking for a resolution.
Lawyer Tim Nichols, who had been contracted to review the NTC Constitution and Bylaws, happened to be speaking on his suggested changes to the documents when the second ballot results were announced. He was consulted to see if the bylaw that governed the election was being interpreted correctly. It was.
Delegate Larry Baird suggested suspending the business of the AGM to allow the candidates to address the voting members before they headed back to the polls. The candidates were allowed only five minutes each to woo soft votes to their side.
Atleo spent much of his time speaking in the Nuu-chah-nulth language, highlighting his priority of language retention and revitalization. Atleo stood for tradition, he said, for hawilthmis, values and teachings.
“Maybe those who are not supporting my continuing in this role have a different vision… I respect that. Ultimately the person that wins is going to represent all of us,” he said.
When it was her turn to speak, Foxcroft described herself as committed, determined and having worked always on behalf of the Nuu-chah-nulth people. She said she had the strength and courage to move the organization forward in a different way.
She told the delegates that the tribal council needed a new way forward, a positive way, a strategic direction leading to where the society wanted to be in five, 10 and 20 years. Foxcroft said she had heard the nations’ concerns. They wanted a way out of poverty, access to their resources, health, wealth and economic development.
Referring to the difficult challenges that First Nations face, battling policies and the decision-making of the current federal government, Foxcroft was clear about the experience she would bring to the table.
“I have contacts in government. I know how governments work. I know how to make them uncomfortable, and they need to feel uncomfortable.”
While Foxcroft has a long history of working with Nuu-chah-nulth communities, including 17 years with health and social services at NTC, and about 10 years with the Tseshaht Nation in social development, she also spent some years as associate deputy minister with the province’s Child and Family Development ministry.
And her presentation must have done the trick to edge her over the top as the delegates headed back for round three of voting.
It was nearing the dinner hour when the electoral officer returned to the meeting with the results, telling delegates that 78 votes were cast, with one spoiled ballot. Forty of those votes had gone to Foxcroft with the remaining 37 to Atleo.
Upon her win, Foxcroft asked her family and community to stand with her as she addressed the delegates.
“I’ll be there,” she told the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council Society members. “I heard. I listened. I understand the burning issues and what the people are concerned about… I am honored and happy and determined, and I will do this work on behalf of our people.”
The position of vice president remains with Ken Watts of Tseshaht, who went unchallenged. A vote was held to decide whether or not to accept his acclamation, and he easily passed the benchmark with 82 per cent of the 67 ballots cast agreeing.
* Deborah Steel is the editor/manager of Hashilthsa News