Residents of Onion Lake Cree Nation went to the polls today to select a chief and council.
The band previously held a meeting on May 5 to determine the nominations for the leadership positions, which resulted in a total candidate list of seventy-one people seeking the eight available council positions, with six others competing for the position of Chief.
The list of candidates contained some familiar names for both the Onion Lake community and the surrounding area, with former Liberal Party of Saskatchewan candidate Dolores Pahtayken listed as a nominee, as well as the current chief, Wallace Fox.
Fox had previously announced in 2016 that he was not planning on seeking the position, but was nominated for the position despite the public statement. He later told La Ronge-based MBC Network Radio Online that he had accepted his nomination, and if the people of Onion Lake decided to vote for him, it was their decision.
The voting began at 8 a.m. today at the Onion Lake Memorial Communiplex, and will run until 8 p.m. this evening. The scene at the complex was one of constant movement, with voters from across the reserve making their way in to vote, while an assortment of candidates pitched themselves to the electorate in the parking lot.
106.1 the Goat spoke with both voters and candidates at the lot to hear their thoughts on the 2016 election. According to council candidate Rose Ann Harper Laliberte, change is slow in the community, but there is always change present.
“It’s (Onion Lake) always going to be changing regardless of who gets in,” said Laliberte.
She also spoke about her thoughts on Fox running in the election.
“If he wants to run, let him run,” said Laliberte.
“We’re all people. We all make decisions, and choices, and rash decisions to quit. Sometimes, things are just said out of anxiety and stuff like that.”
Another candidate who was present in the parking lot, former hunger striker Charmaine Stick, said a lot of the discussion during the race has been about the need for change.
“There’s a lot of people who are coming out, speaking about issues that need to be changed,” said Stick.
“Everybody is talking about change, where we need to go, and the direction that we’re going in.”
Stick said the situation in Onion Lake compared to the last election has changed, when asked if she would undertake another hunger strike if she did not like the results of this year’s vote.
“This time, everything is different,” said Stick.
“Lots of changes have come about since the last election. Whether or not Wallace does make it in, to me that doesn’t really matter. As long as we have the right people in there who want to make the change. As everybody knows, the Chief is not the one who makes all the decisions.”
Voters who spoke with the Goat also discussed a feeling of change. According to Onion Lake resident Laura-Lee Lewis, the wide range of choices made casting a vote a difficult choice.
“I think we need somebody to focus on the youth, and the elders,” said Lewis.
“Pretty much the community as a whole, and I know with this election I’m hoping that there will be a change.”
Resident Leslie Lewis, who said he had voted for Fox as chief, said the decision for council was one that was “pretty much up in the air” due to the potential of all the candidates. As for the decision of Fox to announce he would not be seeking re-election, and later accepting his nomination, Lewis said he viewed it as a strategic move.
“To me, maybe, it was a strategy move, just to see who was out there that wouldn’t mind taking the part of leadership for this community, which again too is not a bad idea for him to return,” said Lewis.
“He has projects still in the air and then having to leave his position and have somebody else come take over and then next thing you know not knowing if those projects are going to be fulfilled by somebody else.”
The results of the vote will be tallied tonight.
Loretta J Pete Lambert, the Chief Electoral Officer for the race, could not give an exact time for when the results will be posted, and also could not confirm whether or not any of the candidates for chief and council had dropped out of the race.
This story will be updated once the official results are known.