Dylan Whiteduck has big dreams and a lot of hope for Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg over the next two years.
The 30-year-old was elected as the new chief for the First Nation near Maniwaki, Que., about 110 kilometres north of Ottawa, on Aug. 29 with 335 votes.
“I take it so graciously and it’s such a sacred duty,” he said.
“I truly do look forward to helping us for the next two years.”
The Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Council holds elections every two years. The new term welcomes includes new councillors Frank Meness, Gilbert W. Whiteduck and Gordon McGregor, as well as incumbents Frankie Cote, Darhlene Twenish and Doug Odjick.
“I feel like this council is strong to move forward with great positive changes for Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg. If we work collaboratively, in co-operation, in unity, we can do great things,” said Whiteduck.
Whiteduck ran on a platform that promoted unity, prosperity and hope. He told CBC News that during his two-year mandate he’d like to see sustainable projects that address food security, seed storage, and land-based opportunities that promote the resurgence of cultural teachings.
“As Anishinabeg people, the land was our medicine for healing and for our mental well-being,” he said.
“We are losing our elders and we are losing this knowledge… We need to grasp that knowledge to teach our kids and our next generation.”
Another area in his election platform addressed challenges brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the community’s lack of IT infrastructure.
Whiteduck said most households in the community have Internet speeds between five and 15 megabits per second (Mbps), compared to Ottawa residences that average about 60 to 100 Mbps.
“There is a huge infrastructure gap problem in First Nations communities for availability of Internet access,” he said.
“Internet is a basic utility now. There is no difference from hydro. There is no difference from water. It should be on the same level for First Nations people, so that we could learn from school, could work from home and be prepared for our future.”
Prior to being elected, Whiteduck worked as an economic development officer in the community for the last five years, helping community businesses and developing projects to promote entrepreneurship.
“I thought it was time to utilize my skills, experience and wisdom of innovation and strategic thinking and analytic problem-solving tools to help Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg as chief,” he said.
It’s not the first time Whiteduck has run for leadership. In 2018, he lost to longtime chief Jean Guy Whiteduck. It was his stepping stone into politics.
“It was something that I did not seek, someone nominated me and unfortunately, I did lose. But it taught me a lot, to be humble, to be respectful, and I truly did value that learning curve of elections,” said Dylan Whiteduck.
Jean Guy Whiteduck, who served as chief from 1976 to 2006 and was elected again in 2015, resigned from his position during the the last term for health reasons, and now works as the community service director. Dylan Whiteduck said he learned a lot from his predecessor while working as an economic development officer.
“He asked me to sit in on council as a viewer and to learn how it works. He taught me how to properly consult with members and how to connect with members, be approachable, and remember that everyone is entitled to their opinion,” he said.
Dylan Whiteduck is among a growing number of younger leaders being elected as chief and to councils across the country. He mentioned the likes of Mark Hill being elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario at 29 years of age last year, and Billy Morin being elected chief of Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta in 2015 at the age of 28.
“We have to remember that age is just a number,” said Whiteduck.
“It’s how the people perceive you as the leader of the community and the people of Kitigan Zibi felt like it was time to move in a new direction of a new face and a new direction.”