A resident and public figure from the Big River First Nation is seeking the second Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Vice Chief’s headdress later this month.
Current Vice Chief Robert Merasty was elected two years ago. He handles the FSIN’s gaming commission and the First Nations Bank portfolios among other topics. Merasty is not listed as a candidate in the upcoming election.
Lyle Whitefish previously held a vice chief's position with the FSIN, and was a band councillor in the Big River First Nation. Now, he’s campaigning to re-enter a leadership role with the Federation.
“I’ve tried everything; I was a carpenter, industrial medical mechanic… renter, farmer, goat herder,” Whitefish said with a laugh while speaking to paNOW.
Whitefish has also flirted with provincial politics when he ran for the NDP in the Saskatchewan Rivers riding last year.
Whitefish said he hopes to “aggressively” address the funding gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities – something he sees on a daily basis as an educator on the Big River First Nation.
“I’m done with the lip service we’re getting from the federal government on funding,” Whitefish said. “It’s frustrating as an educator sitting here… We need a whole gamut of professionals that we simply can’t afford within our communities.”
He called education a major goal and said it was the foundation for prosperity and employment amongst Indigenous people. While the province may enjoy a lower than national average unemployment rate, Whitefish said the situation is not the same for Indigenous communities.
“All of our people have been working in Alberta, but since the decline in the price of oil, a lot of our people are getting laid off, and there’s not a lot of work in Saskatchewan,” Whitefish said. “If we don’t have that work here… it’s getting to be frustrating.”
Whitefish said he wanted to work for proper consultation with Indigenous people when it comes to the use of natural resources and handle unfinished treaty business, as the FSIN was created to defend treaty rights for Indigenous people.
“We need to ensure that we have a strong house; a house of leaders that will work aggressively to continue to defend our treaty rights in courts,” Whitefish said. “We need to go back as well and identify our treaty lands, our traditional territories. We need the province and federal government to recognize this is our homeland.”
Every year various positions come up for election within the FSIN, this year, two vice chiefs are up for election at the Fall Assembly, which is hosted in Saskatoon later this month.
Simon Jobb, from the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and David Pratt from the Muscowpetung First Nation are also seeking election for the second vice chief position.
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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