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'New Nine' want to bring change to Squamish Nation

Newly elected slate wants to put the breaks on Woodfibre LNG


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Squamish Nation has elected a new slate of councillors and eight of them are calling for big change.

Eight members of a nine-person slate — dubbed the New Nine — were elected on Sunday, Dec. 10.

All eight are under 35 years old, and half are women. They are Jacob Lewis, Marcus Wooden, Deanna Lewis, Kristen Rivers, Brandon Darbyshire-Joseph, Joyce Williams, Orene Askew and Dustin Rivers.

The group is unified and vocal in its opposition to Woodfibre LNG, a $1.6-billion project that would see natural gas shipped to the shores of the Howe Sound, where it would be processed into liquefied natural gas and shipped around the world.

"One of the platform issues we ran on is to support our membership in their opposition to the development of LNG within our territory," said Rivers, whose traditional name is Khelsilem.

"Our membership has been clear that they don't support it — and we want to respect and listen to our members."

Khelsilem said many of the newly elected councillors — there are 16 in total — have spoken out against the project.

The nation took a unique approach to selecting candidates, asking interested people to campaign as part of the New Nine.

The nine were selected by Squamish Nation members, with around 300 people taking part in the selection survey, according to Khelsilem.

"It was about our community wanting leadership that would be responsive and engaging with our members, especially on big decisions that affect us," he said.

Khelsilem expressed frustration at the previous council and said more community consultation is needed, especially on major decisions.

"For many years, we've had a council that's become less connected to our community and hasn't been able to find a way to engage our membership, especially when it comes to the big decisions," he said.

Women have traditionally been underrepresented on band council and Khelsilem was happy to help bring more women to the table.

Lewis, one of the newly elected New Nine members, said her win is an important development for the Squamish valley, which has historically not had a big presence on band council.

While 600 members live in the valley, around 4,000 live in Vancouver.

"It's a win for our valley," she said. "We needed a strong voice at our table when talking business."

Like Khelsilem, Lewis is a Squamish language speaker and educator.

She said she is going to push for action in Ch'iyakmesh, a Squamish community near Brackendale that lacks clean drinking water.

"They even brush their teeth with bottled water. That's how bad it is," she said.

She also wants to focus on improving services for Squamish Nation members who live off-reserve and to improve on-reserve housing.

Chief Ian Campbell, a hereditary chief and spokesperson for the Squamish Nation, was re-elected. He was not available for an interview by deadline.

The Squamish Nation has conducted it's own environmental review process to deal with the LNG plan and on Oct. 14, 2015, it issued an Environmental Certificate for the Project that included conditions to be met by Woodfibre LNG. 

Among the incumbent councillors who ran in this election, those re-elected include Wilson Williams, Christopher Lewis, Alroy Baker, Carla George, Joshua Joseph, Richard Baker and Deborah Baker. Jennifer Campo was voted into the elected role of band manager.

A total of 1,350 people cast ballots out of 2,957 eligible voters. Councillors are elected for a four-year term.