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New leadership for Lil'wat Nation

Community moves to two-chief system for the first time


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Lil'wat Nation is moving forward with a new form of leadership.

For the first time ever, the community will use a two-chief system.

In the March 15 election, Dean Nelson was elected chief while Leonard Andrew was elected cultural chief.

The two will govern Lil'wat Nation together.

"Throughout these years we had one chief, of course, and 12 councillors," Andrew said. "Now we're splitting the work, so he's handling the politics and I'm handling the cultural, community part."

The decision came in response to the rapid growth Lil'wat has seen in recent years, Andrew said.

"In this case, we reached the 2,000 mark a few years back, and we were saying 'wow that's a lot of work, running back and forth to the cities, meetings, wherever is required, so from then on it was decided, with the approval of our people, to go this route. So we've got to make it work," he said with a laugh.

Nelson served as a Lil'wat Nation councillor for the past two terms, and was a teacher at the community school for 10 years.

"I could have stayed in the school and retired there... my students were asking 'why are you leaving?'" Nelson said.

"'It's a responsibility,' I told them. If you're a leader, you don't hang back. You've got to be the one that steps up and leads by example."

Andrew — a Lil'wat Elder and former chief and councillor — will serve as a solid mentor for Nelson moving forward.

"It's always good to have a mentor," Nelson said. "I have lots in the community, not just in leadership but in sports as I was growing up, and I always felt that that's how I pass it on to my students... I see good qualities and I want to be like that. They see good qualities in me; I hope they want to be like me.

"Having a mentor close by, I can be a leader, but I won't be as good as a leader if I don't have any guidance."

Joining Nelson and Andrew at the council table are 11 councillors — Alphonse Byron Wallace, Felicity Nelson, Joshua Ryan Anderson, Rosemary Stager, Maxine Joseph-Bruce, Vaughan Gabriel, Lois Mamaya7 Joseph, Carl Wallace, Helena Edmonds, Luke Johnny and Martina Pierre.

"It's a good mix of wisdom and youth, and they're all community oriented," Nelson said. "I think it's just a really good feeling to have all these people together and going in the same direction. Community based, culturally based, I think we all just happen to see the same vision."

There are a lot of issues the two chiefs would like to tackle in the coming years, including those around housing and land use, but Andrew said one of his biggest focuses will be retaining the traditional Lil'wat language of Ucwalmicwts.

"One of my main concerns has always been our language... it's deteriorating so fast it's almost extinct now, so we're concentrating on that," Andrew said. "Luckily it's written now, but I think more importantly we have to focus on the people that are able and lucky enough to know the language, meaning understand it and speak it."

Along with strengthening the language, Andrew said he'd like to raise awareness around Lil'wat's cultural heritage in general.

"I'm just looking forward to what the future holds for us," Nelson said.

"I am looking forward to being part of it."