Chief Jonathan Kruger will retain the title for another four years, after winning the Penticton Indian Band’s election on Wednesday for the top spot on their council.
“I won very decisively,” said Kruger, who received 143 votes out of the 295 votes cast. “It’s an honour and a privilege to continue to serve the Penticton Indian Band as chief.”
The strong vote in his favour, he said, was an endorsement by the PIB community of the direction council has taken over the last four years.
“This does give me confidence that we are going in the right direction,” said Kruger. “I am just very grateful to see all the things we are accomplishing and are continuing to gain more ground and great things for the children and our land and future generations.”
Joe Johnson received the next highest number of votes, with 84, followed by Laurie Wilson, 35; Lavern Jack, 17 and Joseph Pierre, 16.
This election contained several firsts for the band, said Kruger, including the use of social media to help inform community members and a webcast of the all-candidates forum last week.
“Our community really wanted to engage other band members through the technology,” he said, adding that he felt they were successful in encouraging more band members to participate in the discussion. “I am very proud of our community members for stepping up and engaging in this election.”
“I am very proud of John. We’re proud of his determination to be chief,” said Wilson, who is currently a council member and plans to put herself forward again for that position at the nomination meeting on Oct. 30. “I am really grateful for the confidence that was shown in all of us.”
However, Wilson would have liked to have seen a better turnout at the poll. The PIB has about 1,000 members, 730 of which were eligible to vote.
“So we had less the 50 per cent of votes. We really have to do something to make that more representative,” said Wilson, noting that the Osoyoos Indian Band gets 98 per cent turnout at the polls. “We have to get a hold of them and find out what they do. We have to figure out a way to engage those members.”
But Wilson said running for chief was an educational experience for herself and the other candidates.
“We were really surprised at what we learned and pleasantly surprised at how positive it all was,” said Wilson, adding that she hopes to see familiar faces after the elections for councillor in November. “We’ve got some really good momentum going with the council; I am hoping the council will remain stable.”
“We have such strong families, which makes us a strong community. We have done a lot of great things in the past four years and we are going to continue to do great things,” said Kruger, listing off projects like the long-awaited fish hatchery and a health centre. Land planning and more economic development, he continued, are also on the list.
“It’s been quite the journey for economic development, but we are doing things in a very good way,” said Kruger, adding that the PIB council has been working to build agreement with the band’s locatee landowners.
“It’s been a huge change. We are all finding value in moving forward in economic development, where we need to rely on each other for the growth and good of all,” said Kruger. “If it is going to benefit the locatees, it’s going to benefit the band. It’s going to benefit the City of Penticton, it’s going to benefit this whole South Okanagan region for jobs.”
Kruger, who served two terms as councillor before being elected as chief in 2008, said his first four years as chief were educational as well.
“I learned that you have to work for your community members and you have to be there for your other communities in the Okanagan Nation. You have to work with the seven communities within the Okanagan Nation (Alliance),” said Kruger, listing the provincial and national levels he has to work with, as well as the many levels of government, provincial and federal ministries to deal with.
“You have to be really critical in your time management, because you still have to get back to your constituents in the PIB, but you still have to cover all those other bases,” said Kruger. “It’s definitely opened my eyes up on the responsibilities of being a chief.”
“The one thing I see standing out from a lot of the comments is that there needs to be more opportunities, more jobs,” he said. “That is something that it doesn’t matter where you are from, anywhere in the South Okanagan, people are wanting more jobs, more opportunities. I believe we can be a solution for that.”