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Squamish Nation elects new council in historic general election

The newly elected council brings 'a great mix of strength, knowledge, experience, and energy' to the table
Squamish Nation has temporarily closed its main office due to a recent COVID-19 exposure.

The results of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) general election have been announced, with a mix of newcomers and returning councillors taking a seat at the table.

The election on Sept. 26 was a historic day for the Nation, as it was the first election to be governed by the Squamish Nation Election and Referendum Law, which was developed through the largest-ever consultation and engagement initiative with their membership, and approved through a referendum in 2018. Up until then, the election laws hadn’t been changed since 1981.

The electoral reform saw a whole suite of changes, including online voting through OneFeather, the ability for both on-reserve and off-reserve members to vote and call referendums on subjects of their choosing, and changes to candidacy requirements and campaign rules to improve transparency, the Nation said in a release.

“Included in those changes is a historic moment for Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw marking the first time off-reserve members, located in Canada, [the United States], Germany, Belgium, Fiji, and New Zealand, have been able to participate in the voting process,” the Nation stated.

A total of 1,034 ballots were cast by members in-person as well as by mail and online between Aug. 27 to Sept. 26 in the general election, according to the Nation.  

One council chairperson, seven councillors, and a band manager are set to serve a four-year term – a much smaller council than the previously elected 16.

The roles of council chairperson and band manager were filled by acclamation, by Khelsilem (Dustin Rivers) and Bianca Cameron (nee: Joseph), respectively.

Khelsilem, who is now serving his second term on council, said the newly elected council of eight brought “a great mix of strength, knowledge, experience, and energy” to the table and were “going to be a great team to work with over the next four years.”

He added that a smaller council would allow for “much quicker decisions” to be made.

“It also means less politics at the council table and more teamwork,” he said. “I am honoured to serve again on council as a strong advocate for growth that leaves no one behind.

“We all succeed when we succeed together.”

Through candidate statements, all elected councillors shared that their main focus would be on the community.

Tiyáltelut (Kristen Rivers), former council-co chair, secured the new regional councillor position and “hopes to bring equity to members living away from the community,” with more than half of the Nation’s roughly 4,050 members living off-reserve.

“I am ready and more than willing to hear your concerns and hopes for the future,” Tiyáltelut wrote in her candidate statement. “I am also prepared to turn your ideas into action through getting buy-in from fellow council members, coming up with a solid plan, and ensuring projects that benefit off-reserve members stand the test of time.”

Shayla Jacobs will step up to the new role of North Shore councillor, while Joyce Williams was re-elected for a second term and will serve as the new Squamish Valley councillor.

Jacobs, who was a youth representative for the Electoral Commission for a four-year term, said through her role she had had the opportunity to meet with community members and learn their wants and desires.  

“Community has expressed loud and clear that decisions about our nation should not be made without us,” she wrote in her candidate statement. “During my engagement with membership I recognized the passion that our members have for change and the time is now to bring the voice back to the people.”

Wilson Williams will return as a general councillor along with Syexwaliya (Ann Whonnock), who previously served on council from 1989 to 2005 and 2009 to 2017, Chief Dick Williams, who has served 42 years on council, and newcomer Sempulyan (Stewart Gonzales).

“As a very proud Squamish Nation member, my passion to give back and help make our community has grown stronger,” Williams wrote in his candidate statement.

“The teachings, wisdom and experience I have gained living directly in the community, raised in the community, has armoured me with the necessary tools to continue to protect what we have as the Squamish Nation people and to flourish in today’s world.”

In his candidate statement, Sempulyan (Stewart Gonzales) highlighted a number of goals he has for the community, including creating sober living complexes for men and women and a long-term care home for respected elders.

He added that he would “become the voice of our respected membership.”

“An informed membership is a supportive membership,” he wrote.

The new council will begin their four-year term this month.