KEHEWIN – The Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 First Nations' current Grand Chief is a familiar face from the Lakeland.
Kehewin Cree Nation Okimaw (Chief) Vernon Watchmaker was appointed to the role in January. His name was put forward by the tribal association, which consists of six Nations within the Lakeland area.
“There’s a discussion there, then it goes to the confederacy where the 16 Nations, at an assembly, ratify the decision,” Watchmaker explained.
The Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 First Nations was created in the spring of 1993 with the purpose of serving as the united political voice for those Treaty Nations who are in the Treaty 6 territory for the continued protection of the fundamental Treaty, inherent and human rights of the Treaty peoples of those Nations.
The Grand Chief is the spokesperson for the 16 Nations that make up Treaty 6, Watchmaker stated, and assists in carrying out initiatives collectively for those involved.
Watchmaker succeeds Chief Billy Morin as Grand Chief and plans to continue Morrin’s many successes when it comes to urban initiatives and building upon the protocol with the Province of Alberta.
“The First Nations of Treaty No. 6 should be included in resource development so that our youth can gain meaningful employment and ensure prosperity for future generations,” detailed Watchmaker. “When First Nations are at the table, we can ensure that development occurs respectfully with protections for our traditional lands and waters.”
Chief of the Frog Lake First Nations Greg Desjarlais said in a press release, “Okimaw Watchmaker brings a wealth of experience and education. We look forward to working with him and ensuring that our shared visions are realized.”
Born and raised in Kehewin, Watchmaker left the reserve when he was 18 to pursue work and lived in Edmonton for four years before he decided to attend university. He enrolled at the University of Alberta, where he majored in Native Studies and minored in Political Science.
He’s worked in many fields and held different job titles over the years, including an analyst, technician, project lead for lands and resources, economic development, education, and the energy sector.
In 2014, he added another role when he became a councillor, and later chief in 2018, for Kehewin.
When asked why he wanted to join council, Watchmaker said it was his time at university that prompted him to take a leadership role.
“Everything I learned in university about the history of things that happened and having discussions and numerous classes prompted me to come back home and help Kehewin.”
The role of chief allowed Watchmaker and council to do a lot of reassessing to determine gaps in areas they identify in essential services and seeing what projects they can do to eliminate them.
A new school that houses Kindergarten to Grade 12, a new water treatment plant, a new waterline that will eventually reach all of Kehewin’s members, and wastewater management initiatives are just some of the accomplishments that have been achieved so far that stand out to Watchmaker.
Along with working alongside the provincial and federal governments, Watchmaker is most looking forward to sitting down with local councils in municipalities that are neighbours to Indigenous communities.
“I think one of the main takeaways is understanding,” he noted. “They want to learn more so we’re prepared to give that awareness. It’s all about building those relationships and then discussing collaborative initiatives and long-term goals. It’s a good process.”
COVID-19 has slowed this down a bit, but Watchmaker is hopeful to see it begin again now that provincial health orders and restrictions are starting to be eased.
The Grand Chief role is an annual position that is awarded on a rotational basis.