‘I grew up recognizing how different we were treated, which brought a different perspective to the council chambers — I honestly believe that,’ says Ed Schultz, who was a Whitehorse city councillor from 1991 to 1994. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada) When Ed Schultz decided to run for Whitehorse city council in 1991, he had no intention of campaigning as the First Nations candidate.
"As a matter of fact, I had a very deliberate strategy, to the extent possible, [to] not even talk about it or mention it," he recalled.
"I thought being a citizen of Whitehorse was the only qualifier that was necessary … and that my ethnicity really didn’t have anything to do with whether I was qualified or not to be in city hall."
Still, that didn’t stop reporters and voters from noting that he was, in fact, the first Indigenous Yukoner to campaign for, and ultimately win, a seat at the council table. To this day, there has not been another.
That appears likely to hold, even after next week’s municipal election.
"I was hoping, with my time there, it would encourage others to run," said Schultz. "I’m somewhat disappointed."
Even though Schultz didn’t actively campaign in 1991 based on his ethnicity, he admits he saw his cultural background as a usable asset. He said he felt the city could benefit from his perspective, especially as Yukon First Nations moved toward self-government. A different perspective
"I recognized there would be a need for greater collaboration," he said.
"I grew up recognizing how different we were treated, which brought a different perspective to the council chambers — I honestly believe that." Whitehorse city hall. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC) As an example, he cites a debate that raged over the establishment of a retirement home in Riverdale. Schultz recalls how some residents and council members talked about the drawbacks of having more seniors in the neighbourhood.
Schultz weighed in and talked about his own cultural background — and, he feels, ultimately helped sway the vote.
"Our firm belief as Indigenous people is that our seniors or elders are to be the most highly respected people, and you should be honoured to have them in your neighbourhood and wanting to live amongst you," he recalled saying at the time.
"In the end, well, that seniors’ place is in Riverdale today. And I’m pretty certain it has enriched the neighbourhood and the quality of life there." Residual effects
According to Statistics Canada, roughly 18 per cent of Whitehorse’s population in 2016 identified themselves as Aboriginal. An ethnically representative city council would therefore have at least one Indigenous member.
Schultz is not entirely sure why nobody has followed in his footsteps. But he said history may be a guide.
"We have to remember that, at one point in time, that relationship between the local First Nation population and the City of Whitehorse was highly strained, highly polarized, argumentive, and at times at odds over not just land claims, but a whole host of other things," he said.
"I think we’re still living with the residual effects."He also suggested that, since the 1990s, Yukon’s First Nations governments have been "absorbing as much talent as they can."Bev Buckway, a former mayor of Whitehorse, suggested the same thing."I think when you look back at the pictures at city hall over the years, of the makeup of council, you’ll see pretty strong representation of one demographic — and not something that’s pretty reflective of all the people of the city," she said. Advance polling happened last week in Whitehorse. Voting day for most people is on Thursday. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada) "First Nations individuals can be very involved in their own government, and if […]
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