Brent Edwards says he’s still getting used to people calling him “chief.”
“There’s a lot of different leaders in our community, people like David (Bob), natural leaders. Those are the folks I’m hoping to lean on,” he told The NEWS shortly after the Snaw-naw-as (Nanoose First Nation) election earlier this month.
“I’m still getting used to people calling me chief and what that really means.”
Edwards, a 37-year-old father of four boys, ousted long-time chief David Bob in the Jan. 11 election with 57 votes to Bob’s 31.
“We have a lot of work to do. I want to try to open some doors with some municipal neighbours and make sure we keep provincial and federal governments in our sight. I want to work with Snuneymuxw and Qualicum First Nation surrounding us on issues of mutual concern… and I want to make sure we’re having some fun and being proactive.”
Edwards served on the previous council and was re-elected to council in the recent election alongside Christopher Bob, Gordon Edwards and Lawrence Mitchell. According to the Indian Act, a person can serve as both chief and a councillor if they choose to accept both positions. Edwards confirmed he resigned from his councillor role last week and said a byelection will be held in April.
Edwards said he’s been nominated for chief in the past, but formerly declined the nomination. This time, however, he decided to give it a go.
“We’re at a time for our little First Nation where we need to start developing our economic potential,” Edwards said. “For the amount of time I’ve invested in projects, I decided it was time for me to invest my own self into making sure some of these projects move forward.”
Asked for specifics, Edwards said “you’ll see at the corner of Lantzville Road we’re starting phase one. That’s getting our infrastructure to water and sewer and drainage… We’re building a retaining wall on the corner to take advantage of highway commercial development opportunities available after the infrastructure is there.”
Edwards credited the former chief for moving many of these projects forward.
“We worked hard as a team and we still will as a team and a family,” he said. “I’m excited to work with the new council for sure and more excited to work with the community.”
Before getting involved in politics, Edwards, who plays the trumpet, studied music at the University of British Columbia (UBC) with the intention of becoming a music teacher. He also studied geography at Malaspina (now Vancouver Island University) before getting an administrative position with Snaw-naw-as in 2007.
“I’ve been with the band pretty much since then as a band manager and then I was elected as a councillor,” he explained. “But prior to working here, I worked for Indigenous Northern Affairs in their capitol division… I worked on projects on reserves such as water and sewer plants, roads, schools, bridges… I worked with First Nations around the province to develop their infrastructure and then I worked for the B.C. Treaty Commission… My job was to advise and facilitate treaty negotiations throughout the province.”
Edwards called First Nation communities on the Island some of the “last vestiges of community” and said he wants to preserve Snaw-naw-as.
“I want to make sure our commitment … is to all the facets that belong under the definition of community: culture, enjoyment of the waterfront, access to our natural resources,” he said. “We also need to improve our economic situation for our future infrastructure projects and eventually provide jobs to our members. There’s a lot of pressure on us to make sure we don’t make knee-jerk reactions that will have economic benefits, but impact our sense of community.”
Asked how he wants to see the community develop over the next two years, Edwards said it’s not up to him alone.
“It’s really not about how I want the community to develop it’s about creating a discussion about how everyone wants to move forward,” he said.
“There’s a lot of work to do in improving the socio-economic opportunities for our community and continuing to invest in education and training, commoditizing our natural resources and checking in with the community and with each other making sure we have a mandate to move forward.”
Edwards said he also wants to “address some of the havoc the two year (election) cycles create” suggesting extending the election terms to three or four years.
“Some of the legislation in the Indian Act is ancient and archaic,” he said. “Some other First Nations do three or four-year rotations so you aren’t changing the leadership every two years. It would be nice to have some political stability for our community so individuals can move forward on three or four year mandates.”