New chief’s priorities close to home

Chip Seymour was elected chief of Cowichan Tribes Thursday in a tight vote. - Peter W. Rusland
Chip Seymour was elected chief of Cowichan Tribes Thursday in a tight vote.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

If you want to talk to the new Cowichan Tribes chief, you should know where to find him.

William Charles (Chip) Seymour chalked part of his election win Thursday to his promise to boost communication.

“Communication was a big issue from people I talked to. People are coming to the band office and found no one to talk to,” he said.

“Our previous chief spent lots of time traveling and meeting with (First Nations) hierarchy.”

Seymour aims to ask his managers and councillors to handle the routine huddles with government and Native leaders outside Duncan — while he stays closer to home to tend Tribes members’ concerns.

“Most of the time, l’d like to stay here so when people come in looking for help, I’ll be here.”

Seymour is settling in to the chief’s chair, formerly held by Harvey Alphonse, after winning Thursday’s election with 354 votes — just 11 more than second-place challenger Howie George.

“There won’t be a recount unless Howie wants one. Howie was out campaigning hard,” Seymour said, chuckling about being first-time lucky at his try for chief.

The 62-year-old soon-to-be former Tribes maintenance and operations manager also hedged his bets during the election, being re-elected to Tribes’ 12-member council.

“I’m sitting in the chief seat,” he said, indicating he’ll ask council to stage a byelection soon to fill his council seat, and issue a posting to fill his old day job.

“It was close all the way; neck and neck,” said the former longtime soccer coach, who gained his nickname from his kicking prowess.

“I’m feeling pretty good about it. I thought it would be between Harvey and myself,” the chief-elect said. Alphonse finished third with 309 votes.

Seymour expects to be busy with a variety of priorities.

Educating more Cowichan kids to keep them out of trouble, and in good jobs is one.

“Education is a big issue. We need to look at ways to keep our kids in school longer, and increase grad rates.

“We’re gunning for 100% soon. I need to start meeting with young people and finding out what problems they’re having,” he said, also targeting school gatherings.

Education may also abate alarming suicide rates among his people — a crisis that arose in 2012 and continues. Alphonse tackled it by gaining federal funds to address causes.

Embracing Cowichan’s spiritual values may also help, Seymour signalled.

“If we can go back to out cultural ways, we have a process for grieving and how to be strong. We need to go back there. “More involvement from our elders is at the least a first step.”

Some members also want transparency about Tribes’ budgets to quell corruption concerns.

“Anytime they want to see a copy of our budgets, they’re in the office,” Seymour stressed. “We get audited every year; every penny’s audited then the budget goes to (federal) Aboriginal Affairs. They have to approve it before we get anymore.”

Getting more spawning salmon in the Cowichan River is another goal. He wants to work with conservation groups such as One Cowichan, which has been lobbying for local control of spawning release flows.

“Council has already started that process by letters of support, and having someone from council join that committee,” he said.

Solving chronic black-mould outbreaks in Tribes housing is also on Seymour’s list.

He and council aim to meet the feds in Vancouver and address a perceived snub about mouldy-home funding solutions.

“We’ve probably got 100 homes that are in pretty bad shape. Some homes with mold are small enough that our staff can deal with it themselves.”

Attacking mould could spell jobs amid Seymour’s plans for an employment and training offensives and follow-ups.

“We’re trying to improve jobs, and seek employers willing to take our students on as apprentices.”

He was aware of opportunities in booming Alberta “but our young people don’t want to move away from home.”

The summer’s illegal trash torching and waste dumping, on reserve land near Duncan, upset Seymour. He wants to hire a bylaw specialist to beef Tribes’ waste policies.

“We don’t know what’s being dumped — hazardous materials? Plastics?”

Tribes will use local municipal bylaws as a template against the waste-disposal wrangles, he explained.

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