The first-ever all-female chief and council of Saik’uz First Nation have now sworn in to serve for the next two years.
On Feb. 4, both new and previous councils were ceremoniously drummed into the community gathering at the band office.
The 2017 Saik’uz chief and councillors are: Chief Jackie Thomas, Councillors Alison Johnny, Marlene Quaw, Jasmine Thomas, and Priscilla Mueller.
Speaking to the audience in an emotional voice, former chief Stanley Thomas urged all to stand by their leaders and help them out every way they can.
“Don’t crush them, because it’s a hard road out there; I fought against government on the street,” Thomas said. “Being a leader, you have to lead your people as a whole, and it’s a hard thing to do. Not to tell members how to live, but to guide.
“Tell your children: Saik’uz is part of a great nation.”
Serving the community in various roles for the past 36 years, Thomas told his family that he was tired when he decided not to run for chief again.
“A lot to think about in the last four years, and a lot of work was done — some might not see. Working with council has been a great honour,” he said. “My mom said, ‘Do the best you can,’ and I have that inside me.
“I’m deeply honoured to speak one more time in how I feel, who I am. I believe in all of you, your grandparents. Now I want to be a husband, a father, and now and then a couch potato and watch television.”
Former councillor Ernie John, as a fellow frog clan member, presented gifts to Thomas for his service: a medicine staff of balsam, tobaccao for the bush, snuff box for storage, and a carved frog talking stick.
Councillors Cora McIntosh, Benjie Alexis, and Albert George also shared words of thanks to the community and support of the new leadership.
New chief Jackie Thomas, a niece of Thomas, asked the community, “Do we want to put people down, or lift people up?
“We are here on the strength of our ancestors, the ones that made it through small pox and measles. We’ve got to choose our words to lift up people.”
“I choose not the oppression that our government gave us. I choose to say thank you to Stan,” said Jackie, presenting to Thomas an eagle feather — one of the highest honour given among First Nations, as eagles are believed to be leader of all birds, flying high and seeing the land from above.
Each new councillor then presented a gift to the previous leadership, and thanked the community as well as previous leadership for support.
In an interview with the Omineca Express, Jackie said her first step as chief is to change the custom election code.
“Right now, anyone can be chief, even Trump,” she said. Other projects include continuing previous councils’ work on reconciliation with the government outside of the treaty process and with Kenney Dam operator Rio Tinto Alcan on water access, negotiating with New Gold’s transmission line for the Blackwater Project, changing the community health program to focus more on prevention, and hoping to ratify the current agreement with Coastal Gaslink Pipeline project.
When asked about the all-female council, Jackie said she’s happy.
”People said they want change,” she said. “For me, the people have spoken and this is what they want.
“Some of our contemporaries may think we’re weak, but I think of it as more long-term thinking. We’re always going to think of the children and the future, and we’re not going to settle.”
Jackie previously served three terms as Saik’uz’s chief: 1997-98, 2009-11, and 2011-13. She will take a leave of absence from her current role as the First Nation’s land and resources manager.