Wesley returns as Snuneymuxw chief
When John Wesley was fighting cancer last year, he never imagined he would return as the Snuneymuxw First Nation's chief.
But on a snowy Monday, he stood with three re-elected council members — and one new face — to be inaugurated during a ceremony in the Snuneymuxw chief and council chambers.
"I got a second chance through my family," announced Wesley, who has two terms as chief under his belt and more recently sat on council. "This means something, making it to this point today. I'm proud to be your chief and to try to help everybody, to sit down and treat everybody with respect."
Dozens of SFN members, other First Nations members, local leaders and members of the public packed into the room to watch as chief and council were instated in a ceremony officiated by Thomas Jones.
Wesley and five councillors — James Seward, Michael Wyse, Paul Wyse-Seward, Bill Yoachim and Erralyn Thomas — were elected by SFN members on Dec. 7 and their new four-year terms began on Sunday.
Incumbent Chief Doug White was defeated by 13 votes.
Thomas is the only new face in council and is beginning her first term, bringing her experience as a youth representative for the Assembly of First Nations.
Thomas's eyes filled with tears before she addressed the crowd in Hul'quimi'num, later admitting that she is still learning the language as a young person. "As I stand here with everybody, I feel that spot that I'm going to walk into is full," she said. "Somebody's sitting there already. I think about our ancestors already being around that (council) table. Those who came before me."
Wyse-Seward, a returning councillor, told the crowd — which included Mayor John Ruttan, representatives from the Regional District of Nanaimo and two local MLAs — that he wants to work together with all levels of government, but will also fight for the rights of his people.
"Snuneymuxw is a strong nation, a strong people. We always have been. And that's something that we'll never, ever get taken away," he said. "It's bigger for (the young people) than it is for us. Everything they see, everything they hear, is going to stay in their hearts. Someday they will be standing where we are."
White wasn't in attendance, but returning Coun. Yoachim thanked him for everything he accomplished during his four-year term. "I'd like to thank Chief White and Coun. Doug White (II) for their years of serving Snuneymuxw and for the time they put towards our people," Yoachim said.
"We're going to go forward stronger, and we're going to work together. I look forward to what the future brings."