Grace Cunningham takes over as council chief beginning in April. (Contributed) Grace Leon Cunningham takes over as council chief beginning in April. (Contributed)

Katzie First Nation near Pitt Meadows has new chief for next two years

Newcomer wants to set up economic-development department

Katzie First Nation has elected a new chief and a new councillor to govern the band for the next two years.

Grace Leon Cunningham was elected Thursday with a total of 151 votes compared to incumbent Susan Miller, who took 99 votes.

The new councillor elected was David Kenworthy, who earned 180 votes.

The results provide council with a mix of newcomers and veterans. Peter A. James was elected to his third term on council with 143 votes and Rick Bailey was also re-elected to a third term with 199 votes.

“I’m truly honoured. I’m really excited to work for the best interests of the community … and work alongside the re-elected councillors Peter James and Rick Bailey and newly elected councillor David [Kenworthy],” said Cunningham, who lives in Maple Ridge and works as a senior manager for an outpatient counselling agency with the Sts’ailes band in Agassiz.

She wants to ensure that band members are feeling supported and connected to the nation and that programs are meeting people’s needs.

She doesn’t think there’s one particular reason why she won, other than that people wanted a change. She wants to set up a Katzie economic development department and ensure that the band keep working towards the goals in its strategic plan and community plan.

James said he wants to continue with the administrative and governance work started by Miller when she was elected in 2013.

“We created quite a solid framework. We just have to keep using it,” he said.

He added he wants to continue with improving health care on the reserve. The Katzie Community Health building opened in 2015 and the Katzie Early Years Centre just opened a few weeks ago.

Last September, the band set up vehicle gates to the reserve in order to control access and limit crime. That program will be reviewed to see if the objectives are being met.

That program costs $36,000 a month and is funded by the band directly.

The community has been divided between moving forward and staying rooted in culture, Miller said.

“We haven’t found that good balance of how to live in both worlds.”

Miller said that the band has been through lots of changes in the past few years.

“Change is hard, even when it’s good.”

She said the band’s community safety plan drew attention from other First Nations across Canada.

She expects the administrative framework she helped set up to continue.

“I think we’ve become savvy enough that we hold our chief and council accountable,” she said.

“I just think that the procedures that we established, and that we stuck to, the consistent reporting, the consistent general band meetings. I truly believe the new chief and council will continue to honour that and move forward and if they don’t, I don’t believe our community will accept that.”

Jay Bailey, Leslie Bailey, Coleen Pierre and Eileen Pierre also ran for council. Band councillors make about $39,000 a year.

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