Aaron Pete wants to improve the relationship between Hope and Chawathil First Nation.
“We have no work relationship with Hope,” says Pete. “And from my understanding, my community is quite frustrated, because when everyone was dealing with the floods our community wasn’t really mentioned in [Hope’s] thank you celebration. To a certain extent, it’s not [Hope’s] fault. We don’t have an open dialogue with Hope…[and] having those dialogues is really important; we can say, ‘hey, we all just got through this thing together’.”
The 26-year-old Bigger Than Me podcast host, and law graduate, says its one of the many goals he hopes to accomplish if he’s elected as the new chief for Chawathil First Nation. Pete, who lives and works in Chilliwack as a Native court worker, is running for chief and is backed by Chief Rhoda Peters, the former Chawathil chief. Pete, who announced his intention to run earlier in the month, was nominated to be chief of Chawathil First Nation on Aug. 12 and is currently running against four other candidates for the position: Norman Florence, Jeanie Kay, Shane John, and Deanna John.
Pete says it means a lot to have Peters’ support.
“I think she was a tremendous leader and she is always open to hearing people’s concerns and thoughts. And I think it’s an honour that she sees what I can bring to the table.”
When asked why he would be perfect to lead the Chawathil First Nation, he says that he can make the difference his community needs.
“I don’t think there’s anyone else running on a clearer platform to address the problems in my community,” says Pete. “The feeling is that something needs to change because we’re losing really good young people. And I want the crimes of poverty to stop.”
Chawathil First Nation currently has 600 members. Elections for Chawathil are democratic but voting is often done based on family names; people will often vote for candidates with the same last name as them. This means that qualified candidates may not receive votes due to not sharing a family name or because they’re not well known to other band members. Pete, who put his hat in for both chief and councillor, says he wants to change this. And the first step, he feels, is getting the candidates to be clearer about the platform they are running on and transparent about what they would bring to the community as chief.
For Pete, honesty and transparency are important.
“I see the crimes [that happen because] we don’t have enough money. We don’t have proper education. And there are crimes committed as a consequence of that. And I’d like that to stop and for us to mend, heal, and move forward.”
He wants Chawathil members to vote for him based on his merits, on his campaign, and upon his ability to be chief — not based on his family. He wants it to be clear that he is doing this because it’s important for him to run and not because he’s being influenced by family to do so. In particular, he wants to make it clear that he’s not doing this for financial reasons. If elected as leader, Pete says he wants to invest in the economy and infrastructure of Chawathil. He wants to pursue avenues that re-establishes Indigenous entrepreneurship. He wants to develop working and business relationships with other Indigenous communities as well as the District of Hope, Agassiz, and Chilliwack. He wants to develop opportunities for members to pursue education beyond an undergraduate degree. He also wants to explore different business and job opportunities for his community. This includes, he says, having open dialogues about the Trans Mountain pipeline especially with regards to the economic health of Indigenous communities; while he is proud of the role he, and other Indigenous people, play in being stewards of the land, he also believes that space is needed to recognize, and balance out, how poverty affects Indigenous communities.
“When we talk about pipelines, it’s not a simple answer,” says Pete. “I’ve had people my age reach out and go, ‘how could you ever be open to a pipeline? You must be pro-business and you just want to get rich off of it.’ Are you serious? I see the problems with going all pipeline. [But] when people can only take one perspective, and…when they can’t steel man the other position and understand that there’s likely merit to it, even if you don’t love it, then you’re not someone to be taken seriously.”
Pete acknowledges that not being well known to the other Chawathil members may contribute to him not being elected. But he hopes to gain the community’s trust through being transparent with band members on how he’ll lead as chief. He wants to believe that his experiences — navigating generational trauma, obtaining a law degree, creating a podcast, developing a network of different political and business contacts both within and outside Indigenous communities— as well as having a clear vision for the future of Chawathil will make the difference during voting.
While he might not be as well known to the Chawathil community, or the residents of Hope, Aaron is a notable figure in the Chilliwack community. Through his podcast he’s made connections with local journalists and politicians, such as Abbotsford mayor Henry Braun and former Chilliwack mayor Clint Hames. He’s also an ambassador with Indigenous Tourism BC.
Yet, his current influence is something Pete says his teachers wouldn’t believe him capable of. As a child, he says most of his teachers wrote him off and had zero faith in him. Many were convinced he wouldn’t do well in life. And, for a time, he says that their words made him doubt himself. This doubt was further exacerbated by him playing the role of mediator within his home; his grandmother was a survivor of St.Mary’s residential school in Mission, and his mother, who is disabled, is a survivor of the Sixties Scoop. Raised by his mother, who Pete describes as loving and “hyper empathetic” his family struggled financially and Pete remembers many days where there wasn’t enough food in the house to eat.
Despite this, Pete did well for himself. After graduating from Sardis Secondary School, Pete attended the University of the Fraser Valley for Criminology and Criminal Justice before obtaining his law degree from the Peter A. Allard School of Law. He then went on to be a business recovery advisor before becoming a Native court worker for both the Chilliwack and Abbotsford courts.
Obtaining a law degree was important for Pete as it helped him to understand how to invest in the future of his community. He pushed himself to take courses that were tough or usually avoided by other students. He pursued subjects such as contract law, taxation law, taxation of corporations and shareholders, business law, and First Nations economic development. Through these subjects, he learned about the policies and laws that affect Indigenous communities and how they contribute to issues such as lack of clean water. He now understands the complexities of the law and knows how to apply this skill when it comes to legal matters involving his community. It was also in law school that Pete first started learning about the importance of social networking which he further developed, along with his communicative skills, through his podcast.
This, he says, ensures he will succeed as chief.
“I’ve had the pleasure of really learning to listen. And just enjoying [to listen] to someone…communicating to the best of their ability,” says Pete. “And that I think helps a lot. And also contacts. I have so many people now reaching out to me [saying], ‘you’re running for Chief, is there anything I can do to help?’ I never would have envisioned that because I was not that person growing up and now people want to help, they want to open doors. And if I can open those doors for my community, it can have a better impact [for them].”
Which is something he wants both the people of Hope and the Chawathil First Nation to know.
“Things can be so much better and relationships can be so much stronger.”
The election will be held on Sept. 13 in the Chawathil First Nation band house. Band members can vote onsite at the band house or online at www.onefeather.ca.