Alyssa Lepka embracing Aileen Prince after the swearing-in. (Aman Parhar/Caledonia Courier)

Nak’azdli Whut’en makes history electing their first-ever woman Chief

Aileen Prince was sworn in at a ceremony held in Kwah Hall Aug. 27

Correction: The Caledonia Courier made a couple of errors in the original story. Fred Sam is not the only male councillor elected. There were two others who returned to office. There are a total of 8 elected members of council including the Chief and there is currently one vacant position. Additionally Alyssa Lepka is the youngest member of council. The Courier regrets the error.

For the first time in the history of Nak’azdli Whut’en, a woman has been elected as the Chief of the band council.

Aileen Prince has been elected Chief of the Indigenous community adjacent to Fort St. James in northern B.C. She was sworn-in Aug. 27 at an official ceremony held at Kwah Hall.

There are eight councillors on the band council, with a majority women being selected this year.

Currently there are three men on council including — Fred Sam, Mark Prince and Vincent McKinnon Jr.

The Indigenous community has elected Alyssa Lepka, Elizabeth Sam and Murial Sam onto the band council this August.

Genevieve Martin is a returning councillor.

Prince stared her speech by first thanking everyone for supporting her through it. She comes with a vast experience as a community worker including extensive administrative successes during her 20 year career with Nak’azdli Whut’en.

Prince was instrumental in the accreditation of the Nak’azdli Health Centre, building of Nak’al Bun Elementary School, paving roads on reserve land, tiny homes project and more.

“It’s very exciting to be here. I just want to thank so many people who supported me through all of this. It’s very hard to know what to do, being a worker most of my life, and trying to be a politician is kind of a whole switch, and I wasn’t really sure how it’s going to be,” Prince said in her swearing-in ceremony.

Prince said she depended on her work ethic, drive and vision for the community. “And I really want to thank the community for whole-heartedly getting out and supporting the full election,” she said.

A vast majority of band members voted during the election, and Prince called the participation “eye-opening”.

“Because for us, the work begins now,” she added.

“One of the first thing I am really looking forward to is talking to community members and really getting their input into some of the work that we have to get going in the next two years. There are a lot of decisions to be made.”

Prince called the newly elected councillors, a “really good solid council” and said she is confident the group will work hard.

She also thanked outgoing Chief Alexander McKinnon for his years of service. McKinnon was not present at the swearing-in ceremony.

There was a restricted number of people present at the ceremony, due to COVID-19 measures, but the Band had a live stream of the proceedings.

Councillor Elizabeth Sam, one of the younger members of council said she was really excited about working under the first female Chief.

“Thank you to everyone who supported me, who voted for me and for my vision. I lived with my grandma for most of my life, and my brother calls me Grandma junior and that’s pretty much what I bring to the table,” Sam said humored.

Alyssa Lepka is the youngest council member.

The Courier has reached out to councillors and the Chief to get an official statement about their vision. Stay tuned.

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Murial Sam addressing band members during the ceremony. (Aman Parhar/Caledonia Courier)

Fred Sam, a re-elected member of the band council. (Aman Parhar/Caledonia Courier)

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