Baskatawang announced his candidacy Wednesday. If elected, he’ll surpass Wade Cachagee as the youngest chief in Ontario’s history. Cachagee was elected to lead the Chapleau Cree First Nation when he was just 27.
For the 21-year-old Baskatawang, the bid for chief has been a long time coming.
“For better or for worse, I grew up on the reserve,” Baskatawang said in an interview with the Star. From his early years, he said, he was exposed to issues of addiction, child welfare and education.
“My mum was an alcoholic,” he said. “Or, I guess, still is. But it’s not as bad anymore. That, plus having younger sisters, meant playing a protection role.”
Baskatawang said his childhood on the reserve — where he was raised in large part by his great-grandmother — gives him “credence” to speak with politicians about the impact of their policies on Indigenous youth.
Since diving into politics at 16, Baskatawang has advised both Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his work with several youth councils as well as in positions within their government offices.
But policy may also be the main hurdle for Baskatawang in his quest to become chief.
A Whitesand membership code — written in 1986 — includes chief election guidelines that prohibit candidates younger than 25. The code has never formally been validated — while it exists on paper, it has never officially been put to a referendum or community vote.
Darian Baskatawang of Whitesand First Nation hopes to lead his beloved community as chief — providing an ambiguous code written in 1986 doesn’t bar him from running in October’s election.
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