Although he last served as chief more than 30 years ago, Calvin Craigan said he "wasn't too surprised" when the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation elected him again last month.
"Even though it was close, I was fairly confident I would be stepping into that position," Craigan said in an interview Monday. "That's why I didn't go and campaign. I didn't go out and phone people. I decided I would leave the decision to the majority of the people."
Craigan, 69, was elected chief on Feb. 22 with 115 votes, seven votes ahead of former councillor Warren Paull. His three-year term officially begins on April 1.
It was the second time in the last decade that Craigan had eyed a return to the role, having served as chief from 1974-83 and as councillor from 1993-96.
"In 2005 I put my name forward and I withdrew my name because my wife, Jennifer, became seriously ill," he explained. "And as a matter of fact, it's taken all this time and now my wife is on the healing path. She's very well now and she was the one who actually gave me the nod -that the time is now to carry on my destiny. If you're a hereditary chief, then that is your destiny, and I really believe strongly in that."
As hereditary chief and the Band's first elected chief, Calvin's father Charles Craigan was "a great visionary," donating the land for St. Mary's Hospital and sharing the Band's water and sewer systems with the surrounding communities.
But it was Craigan's maternal grandfather, Basil Joe, who trained him in commercial fishing starting at the age of 10, teaching him how to navigate the coast from Washington to Haida Gwaii and introducing him to Native communities up and down the coast where "they know me to this day."
Before entering politics, Craigan had already bought his first business, and over the years he has been a marina operator and fishing guide, forestry consultant, gravel contractor and owner of Salish Marine, a tugboat company that he retired in 2006. Last year he was appointed operations manager of Sechelt Fishing Limited Partnership, a joint venture between the Band and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
"I have a good capacity of understanding the economics and I have a really good understanding of how our government should function," he said. "I think the time that I've taken over the last 12 years to step back and go away and look after my spirit, look after my core being, I think that's provided me at my age to have a strong presence. You've got to be strong in mind, body and spirit in order to govern the people."
After meeting that morning with outgoing chief and incoming councillor Garry Feschuk, Craigan predicted the two would make a good team. "But I think it will also give Garry some time to step back and charge his batteries and come back as a stronger force."
Craigan said the Band has three major initiatives on the go -the Narrows Inlet Hydro Project, renegotiating the gravel operation, "and revisiting lands and leases, specifically how we're going to expand our mall."
In the case of Narrows Inlet, he said he was "very positive" that Band members would give council the green light to become an equity partner in the project.
"The only hesitation that I have on that is that we need to train more people. We've got to really get on the wagon of capacity building. We are going to run out of resource workers. And that's the only little bit of fear that I've got. We may run short of people," he said.
The new council will also have to deal with two major ongoing legal claims - one for rights and titles, the other for Ottawa to own up to the history of residential school abuses to day scholars - and Craigan said both are moving in a positive direction.
"Rights and titles is a major component that needs to be resolved. That's one of the major steps that we have to overcome, but it doesn't speak to being self-reliant or self-governing," he said. "That will continue, no matter what. We've always stated that. Our people were here thousands of years ago and we're going to be here for thousands more years to come. We're building to the point where our people will once again be self-reliant. They'll be fulfilling their destiny."
On the residential school issue, Craigan had a message for the broader Sunshine Coast.
"While people have to be more aware of some of the travesties that happened to our people in the past, surrounding communities should be also aware that we're trying to move past that, we're trying to heal ourselves and move on," he said. "We don't want any sympathy. We've gone past empathy. We're looking for compassion from the rest of the community to help us move forward."
The federal government, he said, has to take responsibility for "what they've taken from our people - they've taken our language, they've taken our spirit. I think the local communities and local governments can help us force the federal government to take that step."
At the Feb. 15 showing of the residential school film We Were Children, Craigan said he could see that there was a lot of emotion among non-Natives in the audience.
"I don't want adjoining communities to feel it is their shame or responsibility - it's not; it's the government's. But I do need them to have the compassion to support us in dealing with the government," he said.
Craigan and the new council will be sworn in on March 31.
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