Judith Sayers and Mariah Charleson have been re-elected as president and vice-president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, after running uncontested for the roles.
Both were named to serve for another term of four years on Oct. 26 at the NTC’s Annual General Meeting, which was hosted online via Zoom due to the ongoing risk of gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sayers and Charleson were the only candidates to submit their names for the leading roles in the summer, but a vote from NTC society members was still held in order to follow the tribal council’s existing bylaws.
Sayers was first elected in September of 2017 after running against the incumbent president Debra Foxcroft. Sayers brought a lifetime of First Nations advocacy into the role, with 18 years of law practice in B.C. and Alberta, as well as 14 years as elected chief of the Hupacasath First Nation.
“During the last four years I’ve worked very hard at raising the profile of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and all of the Nuu-chah-nulth people,” she said before being voted in for a second term, noting the countless media interviews she’s done. “I think it’s really important for us to be speaking out and raising our voices with respect to what Nuu-chah-nulth need.”
Charleson joined Sayers on Feb. 24, 2020, when a byelection determined the vice-president role after the resignation of Andy Callicum. The Hesquiaht member grew up in Hot Springs Cove, and secured a Bachelor of Arts from Vancouver Island University, where she majored in First Nations studies. She has also worked in various ministries with the provincial government.
“I never, throughout my life, pictured myself in a political role,” admitted Charleson during the Oct. 26 AGM, adding that her decision to run came after consulting with elders from her Hesquiaht community. “I really realized that I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”’
Charleson explained that her priorities in the role have been justice issues, health and emergency management. Health concerns have gained a higher profile during the last year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sayers stressed the need for greater First Nations autonomy, particularly with respect to protecting their communities from infection.
“I feel that the B.C. government has been making all the decisions, as well as the First Nations Health Authority,” she said. “We’ve passed motions at each of the provincial organizations to review the health structure, because we really feel that First Nations really aren’t having a say in our right to our health.”
“I take my own personal health seriously,” added Charleson. “I know that as a leader, it’s important because we’ve seen how our people have been negatively impacted through underlying health conditions.”
Both leaders also mentioned several fatal confrontations with police that have devastated Nuu-chah-nulth families in recent years.
“We need a better relationship with the RCMP, we need to have them to respect our people, and value our people,” said Sayers.