A young Cree language speaker is hoping more young people get involved in politics after being denied as candidate for chief, despite having support from his own community.
“I have no regrets because … I was really fortunate to experience the love and support of our community,” said 18-year-old Izaiah Swampy-Omeasoo from Maskwacis — which is about 90 kilometres south of Edmonton.
Since his childhood, Swampy-Omeasoo has been drawn to politics. His grandpa, Jim Omeasoo, was one of the longest-serving leaders in the community, with 38 years of service as councillor and chief.
Going into this year’s election, he knew that he wouldn’t be eligible under Samson Cree Nation Election Law — which states that candidates for chief or councillor need to be 21 years of age — but wanted to give it a shot in hopes that he would have been able to appeal.
“My end goal of it was just to show that there needs to be improvement,” said Swampy-Omeasoo.
On Tuesday July 7, he was nominated for chief and paid the $1000 application fee to enter the election.
“I went in knowing that I was going against the electoral officer. Everybody knew that the system from the start was set up against me,” said Swampy-Omeasoo.
With the election date set for July 14, he had to move quickly on the appeal to the electoral officer, Loretta Pete-Lambert. He paid another $1000 to have his application appealed and was sent a letter informing him that he was denied.
In the letter, it states that “Mr. Swampy-Omeasoo is not challenging the decision of the Electoral Officer but rather is challenging the age requirement under section 3.1(b).”
It goes on to say that he is a “very impressive individual who possesses wisdom beyond his years, that he has unlimited potential and will no doubt make a significant contribution to his community in the future.”
The letter says that it would encourage the nation to revisit their election law.
Pete-Lambert, the electoral officer, says that she based her decision on the election law.
“My position is to follow the law that’s given to me to run the election,” she said. “I approach every individual that comes forward as a potential candidate, and therefore I have to process them according to the eligibility requirements.”
As for the election fees that were paid, Pete-Lambert says that the election law states that an eligible candidate will not be refunded their money — so Swampy-Omeasoo was refunded $1000 for the initial application fee as he was not eligible.
However, it also states that appeal fees are not refundable, so the failed candidate was stuck for $1000.
Letting the people decide
Katherine Swampy, who is married to one of Swampy-Omeasoo’s relatives, said she was approached by the young man in the winter.
She made the decision to nominate him on July 7, but questions why the electoral officer would take his money knowing that he would be denied.
“I feel a bit like he was swindled. He paid $1000 to run. And then he paid $1000 to appeal. I thought he had a stand in the appeal,” Swampy said.
She describes the young man as being passionate about politics and said the decision for him to become chief should have been made by the community.
“I feel like if he got a chance to put his name on the ballot, whether or not he would have becomes chief could have been decided by the people rather than an appeal committee.”
In terms of what he would like to see for his community, Swampy-Omeasoo ranks financial transparency and a need to combat addictions as high priorities.
He also speaks six languages and is passionate about nehiyawewin language revitalization.
As for the future, Swampy-Omeasoo plans on attending the University of Alberta in the fall, and would like to get involved in his nation’s politics in the future.