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Cowichan's candidates for chief cite housing, education, health as top issues

Cowichan Tribes member Rob Nye hefts T-shirt statement about his people during the Nov. 28 chiefs candidates
Cowichan Tribes member Rob Nye hefts T-shirt statement about his people during the Nov. 28 chiefs candidates' forum at the Si'em Lelum Gym.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Housing, health, education and Cowichan Tribes management were the top issues among eight candidates for chief during Thursday's forum in the Si'em Lelum Gym.

Former chief, Philomena Alphonse, translated into Hul'qumi'num candidates' answers to written questions from dozens of Tribes members. Their new chief will be elected Dec 5.

The eight were asked by the News Leader Pictorial to describe the most important issue facing their people, and what sets them apart from the other hopefuls.

Outgoing chief Harvey Alphonse said housing shortages are what he's asked about most.

"If we could address housing, education issues would fall into line; members don't feel they're treated fairly when they send their kids to school."

Alphonse hoped to see members gaining job training in Alberta, and construction skills here to help build Cowichan homes.

Sharon Ann Lewis said mold in Tribes homes is a prominent problem.

"Mold causes debilitating illnesses with our elders, families and children. We have to come to terms with our housing problems, and roads that go to our homes."

Cowichan people also face challenges to sovereignty from corporations, and federal and provincial governments trying to grab their land, and erode their rights, she said.

"We're equal to Canada (citizens); we just have to believe we're equal."

Lewis also wanted equal access to tobacco-tax money, as other bands have.

"Across Canada (government) gives tobacco taxes back to the people: they need that to fix their cars and homes, and buy clothes."

Fixing addictions among Natives was Lorissa Peters' primary concern. She demanded more after-care such as half-way houses for recovering Natives.

"They go right back to the liquor store or drug dealer," she said, urging more abuse education.

Some substance issues stem from abuse in residential schools, such as ones Peters survived.

"The cycle of harsh abuse goes on in our community. Some people just can't understand what we went through in residential schools."

Finding a balance of sustainability in Cowichan's economic plans was Patrick Stock's message.

"Without a band run like a business, we can't operate sustainably."

He cited food and fisheries-management concerns, noting he has "a good background" to run the Tribes.

Dick Williams explained education can help members keep their homes, while CMHC could help build more.

"Let's sit down with VIU," he said of trades and construction programs for Natives. "The government wants to throw money our way; let's do it."

Tribes needs skills to escape dependency on government, he said.

"Our kids have to be proud."

Howie George was proud of Cowichan members' resiliency to stay healthy and solve problems.

"We created jobs before, we'll do it again. We're a very, very smart people," he said, sure those smarts can answer Tribes housing crunch.

"The harder we work, the luckier we'll be. We have to work together to make things happen."

Things such as better communication by chief and council, explained William (Chip) Seymour.

"Members coming into our offices say they aren't getting answers from anyone. They're getting shuffled around.

"Let's deal with these issues," he said, citing youth concerns, housing and education. "We need $20 million to build a youth wellness centre. Let's get the dollars to get that built."

Education about heritage awareness among his people was Ron George's drive.

"It should be compulsory to have Cowichan 101 in our curriculum."

Textbooks tell of residential-school abuse but "teachers choose not to use those." Instead, he wanted students taught Cowichan myths about Mount Tzouhalem and Mount Prevost, connect kids to their traditional lands.

"It's all out there on the land."

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