Original Published 13:50 Apr 05, 2022

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As she runs for the top leadership position in her community, Kyra Wilson hopes that her candidacy for chief will inspire more young Indigenous women and girls to get involved in politics but also inspire more men to step up and support women who are running for leadership roles.

“I feel honoured and blessed to be an Indigenous woman running for chief,” 35-year-old Kyra Wilson said about her candidacy for chief of the Long Plain First Nation, a community of about 4,600 band members that sits near Portage la Prairie.

“And I feel honoured to have both men and women who are supporting me.”

When Long Plain goes to the polls on April 14 to pick their next chief and council there will be one noticeable absence from the list of candidates, as current Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches will not run for any position on council after serving for more than 20 years as chief, and another six years as a band councillor.

Wilson said it was Meeches that approached her and asked her to run for chief after he made his own decision not to run, and Meeches has since officially endorsed her candidacy.

“Dennis Meeches has been a mentor to me, and he has approached me a few times in the last few elections to run, and I just couldn’t do it as a single parent in school,” Wilson said.

“So this time around he asked if I’d be interested in running for chief, so I talked to my family and took it to ceremony and made a decision that it was time.”

Wilson said she knows that for many years far more men than women have run for and held chief and council positions in First Nations communities in Manitoba, but she said she believes more community members now want to see a “balance” of men and women seeking those roles and making important decisions.

“Traditionally our women were a big part of the decision making, and now we are starting again to see that balance, and seeing men supporting women for leadership roles,” she said. “It’s really humbling when you have men in leadership roles that are able to support women to go into these roles.”

Wilson, who has a background in social work, child services and mental health, said one of her main priorities if elected would be to bring essential services into her community, because she said currently in Long Plain and in many First Nations communities, residents are often forced to travel or to permanently move away just to access those services.

“I want to look at how we will provide those services on-reserve,” Wilson said. “Anyone that lives on-reserve knows they probably have to leave the community when they want to seek out quality education or proper health care.

“Everything should be in the community, and we need to make sure everyone that wants to stay in the community can stay in the community.”

Wilson also wants to see more mental health services come to Long Plain, as residential school survivors and their families continue to deal with the intergeneration trauma caused by Canada’s former residential school system.

“One thing I noticed when I was working in child welfare was that a lot of families struggle with a lot of hurt and pain and trauma, so we now really need to focus on that wellness and figure out what wellness looks like for Indigenous people,” she said.

“That could mean mental health or reconnection with culture, but there are different areas to look at when we are talking about wellness, and I do want to focus on healing and wellness for Long Plain.”

This item reprinted with permission from Winnipeg Sun, Winnipeg, Manitoba