Two vie for chief in Canoe Lake

by Derek Cornet

With an election date set for Dec. 12, two Canoe Lake Cree Nation band members have put their names forward in a bid for the top-spot on council.

Robert Opekokew – who is seeking re-election – has served two, two-year terms and is pursuing a third. He said, among the highlights during his time as chief have been the opening of a youth centre in Canoe Lake in 2012 and the addition of a hall and band office, as well as a convenience store in Eagles Lake.

Robert Opekokew (left) and Francis X. Iron

Robert Opekokew (left) and Francis X. Iron

“I want to finish some of the business I started and move forward with my First Nation,” Opekokew said. “The youth centre was a dream for some of our elders and band councillors, so we decided to carry on and make it possible.”

He also noted the store’s books were in the black and the band office hasn’t needed to use band money to keep it open. He added the business created five jobs on the satellite reserve and was providing a service to local residents. Opekokew went on to say the band was also earning revenue through subcontracting work and in the forest industry.

Another achievement he noted was the commencement of a university program in the community in 2011. Opekokew said students were able to obtain two degrees – including a bachelor of education degree – through the program and close to 20 members will convocate next fall.

“It’s been a success story and history in the making for Canoe Lake,” he said. “To see their parents also go to school, it’s also going to motivate the kids to want to continue their education as well.”

Also on the ballot for chief is Francis X. Iron. Iron has spent two terms as a councillor between 2008 and 2014, but took a two-year break after losing to Opekokew in the 2010 election. Iron said his first act as chief, if elected, is the scheduling of a general band meeting.

“Our people are kept in the dark and they don’t know what’s going on,” Iron said. “There hasn’t been a meeting in four years and there’s no communication between us and our band members. That needs to happen.”

Iron promised to hold a general meeting four times a year to allow band members the opportunity to ask questions and become more aware of the band’s dealings. He also feels the band needs to do more to create jobs and spur economic development. Iron added the reserve has to be able to generate its own funds because federal dollars are already allocated to specific programs.

“It seems like everything has been at a standstill,” he said. “We’ve been in talks with companies and I don’t know why we haven’t pulled the trigger.”

Iron believes he has what it takes to give the band a fresh start. He said his father – the late Frank Iron – was also chief and a lot of what he learned from him has helped during his tenure on council. Iron said the biggest key to his campaign is his pledge to take direction from the members.

Meanwhile, those hoping to land one of six seats as a councillor are August Iron, Eval Lariviere, Richard Opikokew, Leonard Opikokew and Ralph Opikokew. Others seeking a spot include Dolores Blackmon, Isabelle Coulineur, Walter Coulineur, Lawrence Durocher, Bernice Iron, David Iron, Diane Iron, Eva Iron, Francis Iron, Jamie Iron, Kenneth (Tom) Iron, Kenneth (Wayne) Iron, Lorne Iron, Morris Mike Iron, Rose Ann Iron, Sarina Iron, Vivian Audrey Iron, Wilfred Iron, Nathan Maurice-Opikokew and Florence Yew.

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