EDEN VALLEY – Housing and substance abuse are among issues the newly-elected Bearspaw First Nation council plans to address this term.
Members of council spoke about the importance of people banding together as they move forward during the inauguration of the new council on Jan. 10, which will serve the two communities from December 2019 to December 2022. The inauguration was held for the first time in Eden Valley, with citizens and government dignitaries in attendance.
The day’s activities included a pipe ceremony, breakfast, drumming and traditional dancing, a swearing in ceremony, speeches and a feast at Chief Jacob Bearspaw Memorial School.
Chief Darcy Dixon, of Morley, was re-elected, as well as Eden Valley councillor Rex Daniels and Morley
councillors Anthony Bearspaw and Rod Hunter. Joining the council for the first time is Eden Valley’s Pierre Lefthand.
Chief Dixon, who received 496 votes, ahead of David Bearspaw with 169 votes and Lenny Wesley with 81, said he will strive to work towards a successful future for residents in the two communities.
One of the areas council plans to address, he said, is keeping educated people in the communities.
“We have some people who have degrees for different outfits like union affairs,” he said. “It’s getting people to finish their education and if they do that we have to have areas that we need to develop here [to keep them here].”
Addressing social issues is also a key to success in the two First Nations communities, Dixon said.
“We’re really working hard on trying to deal with some of the social issues here,” he said. “Housing is one of them.”
Dixon said another priority is addressing the challenge of substance abuse.
“We just need to continue working toward following the plans that are brought forth,” he said. “We have plans in place with all the stakeholders, so we can sit down with the community to see what areas are the ones that we can actually do. The immediate goal is to try to help our people to help the community with the sort of stuff that’s ongoing. The long term goal is prevention.”
Dixon has served 21 years on council – the first term as councillor and the remaining as chief. The Morley resident grew up in Eden Valley and has worked in several senior positions for the tribal government.
Dixon said originally he was approached by council asking if he was interested in running.
“Bearspaw Nation was the smallest tribe and there was no growth within our nation,” he said. “We were one of the tribes that really had no assets. We relied heavily on our natural resources.”
Dixon said he realized the communities could no longer depend on their natural resources with the development of the oil and gas industry. He said growth and economic development needed to occur.
“We were able to establish our own economy,” he said. “We negotiated with the government to use our lease land that we owned and change the way that leases were set up.”
With much of the traditional land used for agriculture, Dixon said the band council negotiated with the government to make some parcels commercial leases, and continues to do so.
When asked if retirement is in the future, Dixon said he’s not yet ready to step down, but sees potential for great leadership with more young people joining council in future years.
“We have some young councillors on board, some that have made steps in helping the community with some issues that we’ve been facing,” he said.
“I will continue to stay on until I feel that we do have people that are capable of becoming good leaders.”
A young and new member of council, Lefthand, received the second most votes in Eden Valley during last month’s election, with 290 votes.
During his speech, Lefthand said the council will work together to guide the people, yet it’s up to the people themselves to take control of their lives.
“One thing we need to take control of is addiction before it takes control over us,” he said. “We need to do something together. You as a people must change yourselves first if you want change to happen.”
Lefthand expressed his concerns that the First Nation's culture is slowly fading.
“Our people here in Eden Valley from 20 years old down, they don’t speak the Stoney language, they can barely understand it,” he said.
“Before that’s all gone we need to come together as people and support each other – set up something before our culture is gone.”
Lefthand assured those in attendance last week that the council will support them as their leaders.
“Don’t be afraid to come to us,” he said. “It’s up to you people to decide our future. We have to set a path for the next generation.”
Daniels, who has served three terms on council and received 331 votes in Eden Valley, encouraged everyone at the inauguration to work together and be good to each other, and assured them that the council is working towards a better future.
“The chief is looking out for the people, to lead the people in the right direction,” he said. “I enjoy working with my colleagues, my council.”
During the ceremony, the chief and council was presented with headdresses and Hudson Bay jackets.
Newcomer Lefthand and returning chief Dixon each received eagle feather for protection.