Eight of the nine elected councillors for Tseshaht First Nation gather for the first time via Zoom in January 2021. (SCREENSHOT)

Tseshaht First Nation in Port Alberni elects new council

Election was delayed by COVID-19

Tseshaht First Nation’s recent election ran into a number of delays, but a new council has finally been elected for the next four years.

The 2020 election was originally delayed by a few months due to COVID-19. The first eight council members were finally elected on Dec. 13: Ken Watts, Eunice Joe, Natasha Marshall, Edward Ross, Debra Foxcroft, Les Sam, Bella Fred and Jennifer Gallic.

There was a three-way tie for the ninth councillor position, which led to a tie-breaker vote. Robert Rupert won the vote on Dec. 19; however, on Dec. 31, Tseshaht announced that Rupert had been disqualified from continuing as a member of elected council. Although council had not been sworn in at the time, a by-election was declared.

The final seat went to Leisa Hassal on March 20, 2021 in a by-election.

“It was unique, and it was a little frustrating at times,” said elected chief councillor Ken Watts in an interview with the Alberni Valley News after the final vote. “We live in uncertain times with COVID-19 and it’s the way the dice rolls during this time. At the end of the day, the community spoke.”

Under Tseshaht’s custom election code, councillors vote amongst themselves to determine who will be appointed chief councillor. Watts was elected as the chief councillor when the first eight councillors took their oath of office in January 2021.

Hassal will be sworn in within the next month, he noted.

“It’s such a sigh of relief that we can get to work,” said Watts. “We’ve got an amazing group with such a diverse background. We work so well together.”

Over the last few weeks, Watts and the rest of council have been hard at work, meeting with different government officials to build relationships or build on existing relationships. Next month Tseshaht will hold its first strategic planning meeting, which will set the nation’s course for the next four years.

“We heard pretty loud and clear during our election some of the priorities,” said Watts. These include economic development and jobs, housing and infrastructure, governance and communications, the overall health and wellbeing of the nation and the recognition of Tseshaht’s title and rights.

Council has already been working on the last priority, as members have been delivering acknowledgement plaques to local governments and organizations, recognizing areas in Port Alberni as Tseshaht territory.

Six out of the nine elected councillors are women, which Watts says is a first for the nation.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “On my screen on Zoom, I was surrounded by the empowering and inspiring Tseshaht women who are elected to council, who always make sure I’m accountable and make sure I’m striving for balance in our work. I love it because it brings a whole new energy to our work as a nation and I think it’s the right time.”

The full list of elected councillors for Tseshaht First Nation is as follows:

Ken Watts

Eunice Joe

Natasha Marshall

Edward Ross

Debra Foxcroft

Les Sam

Bella Fred

Jennifer Gallic

Leisa Hassal

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Alberni Valley News