The Canim Lake Band elected a new chief in Helen Henderson after an election on March 31. She will begin her new role on May 2.
“I am humbled for sure. I didn’t go into this lightly and the decision to run wasn’t an easy one. It’s a lot of work and at times, extended times away from my family. It is not only my commitment; it is the commitment of my loved ones,” she said.
She is also only the second woman to be chief of the Canim Lake Band, the first one being Charlotte Christopher, who was in the role from Dec. 2, 1972, to Aug. 31, 1973. Henderson was born on Aug. 16, 1973.
Henderson said this fact isn’t lost on her and Christopher was the epitome of what it means to be a Secwepemc woman and values her teachings.
As chief, she is hoping towards moving toward self-governance, something the community has been working on for many years.
“Whether we are in treaty or not, I have always maintained that we govern ourselves. We will be decision makers for our community and traditional territory and we will be accountable to our own members,” Henderson said.
Under the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), Henderson said the Canim Lake Band is challenged with doing so and will continue to be until they are out from under the INAC model currently in place.
She said she will be counting on the help, support and contribution from community members.
In her role as the self-government coordinator, the band is between the agreement-in-principle and framework agreement stage of self-governance. When she becomes chief, she said, it will allow her to increase her capacity to effect change.
“My message has been clear: we need to move forward and achieve self-governance. My mission was to make connections with our members and be honest with my answer. The truth be told, we are a Band that delivers programs and services under INAC. Being called a DIA (Department of Indian Affairs)/INAC chief is insulting to some but in reality, that is what we are. Until we are truly self-governing and out from under INAC, that is what we will be. In the meantime, it’s about creating space for our members to have healthy, respectful dialogue and our members were very respectful in their questions,” she said.
Henderson was previously a councillor during Michael Archie’s, the former chief, administration.
She is also the self-government coordinator for the Canim Lake Band’s treaty department.
She said she has learned much from Archie, describing him fair and calm in approaching matters that otherwise would have angered her, such as resource extraction and agrees with him that members of the band should benefit from resources taken from their territory.
Henderson first got involved in politics because she wanted to learn the process of decision making within her community and first ran as chief in 2010, admitting that she said she felt she was in no position to lead due to alcoholism.
She took another stab at politics in 2014 when she was sober and stronger and became a councillor, learning how decisions are made in the current INAC delegated structure.
“I am an advocate,” said Henderson. “I believe in advocating for what I believe my people have a right to or deserve. Benefits of the resources that leave our territory are one of them. I have much to learn, especially around technology and economic growth. With the changing times being swift as it is, our people strive to be self-sustaining as we were pre- contact.”