Gwich’in Tribal Council grand chief turns away from politics, toward family

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Gwich’in Tribal Council grand chief turns away from politics, toward family's Profile


Grand Chief Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan of the Gwich’in Tribal Council says she has decided not to seek re-election so she can spend more time with her family. 

“It came down to the demand of my time, and although we say family is always first, there were times where I had to miss out on my daughter’s school events and special occasions,” she says.

The family came to the decision together last summer, says Greenland-Morgan. 

Elected in 2016, Greenland-Morgan served one term as grand chief of the organization that protects and promotes the rights and interests of the Gwich’in people and their land. The election for a new grand chief and deputy grand chief is scheduled for Sept. 3. 

The “unnecessary drama and dysfunction” of politics also influenced Greenland-Morgan’s decision not to run again, she said.

“[There are] so many different views and values among the different people and different agendas,” she says. “It’s crucial for leadership to focus on one agenda and that agenda should always be for the best interest and benefit of all Gwich’in (all four communities) and not just one over the other.”

Greenland-Morgan says she’s pleased with what her team accomplished over the last four years.

For example, she says, there was the January release of the mineral development strategy in the Gwich’in Settlement Area — the first of its kind for the Gwich’in Tribal Council. 

“Looking at the objectives of our land claim, and being environmental stewards, and being in support of responsible development, it’s very important to have a strategy in place,” she says. 

Struggles for government contracts

But her term hasn’t been without challenges. 

Most notable, says Greenland-Morgan, are federal procurement policies that see work for projects within the Gwich’in Settlement Area put out to public tender.

“We strongly believe that when there’s opportunities and projects within our Gwich’in Settlement Area, that those procurement processes need to change to honour that,” she says. “If we have the capacity and the capabilities to do work in our region, then we don’t believe that we need to go to public tender.” 

Neither Deputy Grand Chief Jordan Peterson nor Greenland-Morgan are seeking re-election. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Grand Chief George Mackenzie of the Tłı̨chǫ Government voiced the same complaint last week after a contract for road work on Tłı̨chǫ land was put out for public bidding. He said the procurement process disrespected the Tłı̨chǫ land claim and self-government agreement. 

The Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement was signed in 1992, so by now, says Greenland-Morgan, Gwich’in people should be seeing some of those direct benefits. 

“That’s the main reason why these [procurement] processes need to be overhauled, because in a lot of cases it’s not working.”

The high turnover among members of her team has also been an obstacle, she says. 

We strongly believe that when there’s opportunities and projects within our Gwich’in Settlement Area, that those procurement processes need to change to honour that.– Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan, Gwich’in Tribal Council grand chief

To her successor, Greenland-Morgan urges putting the healing and well-being of people first.

“Like every other Indigenous group across this country, we have the intergenerational trauma of residential school and a lot of other things that have happened in the history of our country … and there’s a lot of healing needed yet,” she says. 

“The more progress we make with our people to revitalize who we come from, revitalize that power in the people, the more we heal as a nation — it’s going to make things easier across the board. I really believe that.”

Urges voters to cast ballot

Born at the hospital in Inuvik and raised in Aklavik, N.W.T., Greenland-Morgan was previously an administrative assistant to the principal at the Moose Kerr School in Aklavik, a hamlet councillor, and executive assistant to former premier Floyd Roland.

“She was definitely dedicated to the people, even when she worked with me, she was always informed of the folks up there and what was happening,” said Roland.

As for what’s next, Greenland-Morgan says she hasn’t made any commitments. For now, she’ll spend more time with her family and her aging parents. 

But before she does that, Greenland-Morgan is urging eligible voters to cast a ballot in the upcoming election.

“We do have a lot of solid candidates,” she says. “As you look at what they have to offer, it makes me hopeful.”



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