First Nation leader ousted in election
By Shayne Morrow, Canwest News Service
April 4, 2009
Judith Sayers has been defeated as chief councillor for the Hupacasath First Nation.
Photograph by: Debra Brash, Times Colonist, Canwest News Service
The high-profile chief councillor for Hupacasath First Nation was voted out in a band election Thursday night after 14 years in office.
Shaunee Casavant now takes over leadership of the small but high-profile band from Judith Sayers. The band has 265 members.
For Sayers, a lawyer who was first elected in 1995, the defeat came as a jolt.
"The world shifted last night," Sayers said. "The community has spoken, and I respect that. I really feel honoured and privileged to have served for 14 years -- I feel I can hold my head high."
The move follows a year in which Sayers has taken on executive roles with the Island Corridor Foundation -- the non-profit group that owns Vancouver Island's 290-kilometre rail corridor -- and Eagle Rock Materials, which operates a Port Alberni-area quarry partially owned by First Nations.
Sayers acknowledges some Hupacasath members were unhappy with her high profile outside the community.
"There was some complaining that I was 'never there.' But you can't stay in Port Alberni and do all the business any more," she said. "That's all part of it - it's what brought us national and international exposure. I was recently at Oxford, speaking about Hupacasath."
Casavant could not be reached for comment.
Les Sam, chief councillor for the Tseshaht, another Alberni-area First Nation, agrees aboriginal leaders must extend their reach outside their home communities.
He said Casavant faces a steep learning curve.
"As a chief councillor, it's been one of the most difficult jobs I've had in my career," Sam said. "There are so many different areas you have to become educated in -- administration, housing, economic development. You have to know about all the resources in your back yard -- fisheries, forestry, independent power projects, salmon stocks in relation to global warming. And then you're dealing with all the social issues in your community."
Sayers said she will remain as chief treaty negotiator for Hupacasath for now.
But she's also looking to make a clean break. "I do intend to resign from all boards except ICF and Eagle Rock," Sayers said.
"I've had quite a few job offers already, so it's not likely I'll be staying in Port Alberni."
Port Alberni mayor Ken McRae said while Sayers may change her address, he expects she will continue to be an advocate for the Alberni Valley.
"She's a highly educated lawyer and she's passionate about her community," he said.
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