Indigenous candidate in Yukon hoping to break 30 year drought

If elected, Michelle Friesen would be first Indigenous person to serve on Whitehorse council since 1991.

Michelle Friesen is one of 17 candidates running for six councillor positions in the Whitehorse municipal election set for Oct. 21.

Friesen’s family is from the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council (TKC). If elected, she’d be the first publicly self-identifying Indigenous person to serve on council since 1991.

“Representation matters and it’s one of the reasons why I decided to step into politics in the first place,” Friesen tells APTN News.

The last Indigenous person to serve on council was Ed Shultz.

Shultz, himself, was the first Indigenous person to be elected to the Whitehorse city council. He served one term from 1991 to 1994. He later went on to become grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations for two terms.

Friesen says 30 years on, it’s time for a member of council to be an Indigenous person – especially since more than 50 per cent of the Indigenous population in the territory lives in Whitehorse.

“I think having diverse perspectives is vital to any leadership and I hope I can bring that to city council,” she says.

Friesen says the issues important to her are affordable housing, accessible transportation and climate change – something Friesen is particularly concerned about as a First Nations person.

“I think it’s important to listen to our knowledge keepers and trust that traditional knowledge. Our elders have been warning us about climate change and it’s time that we start listening,” she says.

Friesen says reconciliation is also something she’d like to focus on.

If elected, she says she’ll push for council to build strong relationships with TKC and Kwanlin Dün First Nation, the two First Nations in Whitehorse, as well as continue the work needed to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner’s calls to action.

“If we want to honour the spirit of reconciliation we have to honour it in every decision we make as council,” she says.

Friesen previously ran for the Yukon NDP party during the 2021 territorial election for the Mountainview riding.

She lost to Liberal incumbent Jeanie Mclean, but says the experience gave her the confidence to run for council.

“That was one of the things that really helped me in understanding where people saw those leadership qualities in me, and that made me feel more confident to step into this realm,” she says.

Friesen is also the founder of ShredHers, a women’s mountain biking group that connects women with mental health and wellness supports.

With voters heading to the polls on Thursday, Friesen is wrapping up her campaign.

She hopes running for council will inspire other Indigenous people in the Yukon to do the same in the future.

“I hope by stepping forward I can encourage diversity, leadership, and inspire other women and Indigenous youth to see that we can and should be in these spaces where decisions about our future is being made,” she says.

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