The Tseshaht made history when they went to the polls in mid-May by electing their youngest, female chief councillor.
Just turned 27, Cynthia Dick was only 26 when she was elected to the role of chief councillor for the Tseshaht First Nations.
Dick had worked for the Tseshaht prior to running and was introduced to the issues and concerns in the community.
“I worked here from 2014-15 as the office manager and during that time I did some recording for the community meetings,” she said.
“That really got me interested in all the Tseshaht issues and everything going on with Tseshaht. It made me want to be more involved and try to encourage more people to be involved.”
While being a staff member precluded her from running, when she applied for and got the job working in an educational role at the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, she decided it was time to give it a go.
“That opened the door and I decided to run for council and then my name was put forward for chief councillor. What I have to offer is a new perspective and an eagerness to learn and a willingness to teach.”
With her new perspective, Dick hopes that tensions between the Tseshaht and the Hupacasath First Nations will fade.
“That becomes apparent with a lot of different nations. It’s not just Hupacasath and Tseshaht but you can see it anywhere with Nuu-chah-nulth communities,” she said.
“The great thing about Nuu-chah-nulth culture is that we will come together when we need to and I think maybe that will be in our four-year term and we’ll come together. In Nuu-chah-nulth we have a saying: Hishuck-ish-Tsawalk, we are all one and interconnected and I think we need to start going back and living by that.”
Although going into the top role with no prior political experience will be a challenge, Dick felt that it was the right choice for her to make—with the community’s support.
“I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable accepting that position if I didn’t feel confident that I could do it and if I didn’t feel like I had the community’s support. And I feel like I had both.”
And it’s that community that she’s focusing on.
“My biggest thing is working on the relationships, even relationships within our community and making us stronger as a nation,” Dick said.
“Language and culture is very important to me.”
To that end, she wants to focus on the nation’s youth.
The Tseshaht run Haahuupayak School for K-7 students on their reserve but upon completing that, students transition to high school at ADSS.
And the move from elementary to high school isn’t as smooth as it could be, Dick said.
“I went to Haahuupayak and I feel like once you leave that school, there’s not a whole lot of support. There have been some improvements now but there’s room for growth,” she said.
Dick wants the high school to continue to work on being more inclusive.
“More focus on including Nuu-chah-nulth culture in the school system. I know that there have been improvements since I went to school—we have the Nuu-chah-nulth education workers and the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council is very involved, however it would be good to have a stronger Nuu-chah-nulth program right up until Grade 12,” she said.
Targeting Nuu-chah-nulth teens at ADSS is the key to making sure they retain what they learned at Haahuupayak.
“When they leave Haahuupayak, the do have strong Nuu-chah-nulth language skills but then it’s not fostered and it doesn’t continue to grow afterwards,” she said.
She also wants them more involved–something she hopes to encourage during her term.
“I think it’s all about empowerment. Give them a voice and more importantly than giving them a voice, listen to that voice.”
While Dick is focused on building up her people, she doesn’t want to focus so far internally as to limit the Tseshaht’s partnerships with the rest of the Alberni Valley.
“I know that the opportunity is out there and I’m sure Port Alberni will definitely see our presence going forward.”