A 33-year-old traditional wellness co-ordinator, university student, ski coach and former rodeo competitor plans to run for chief in the upcoming Xeni Gwet’in First Nation election slated for Feb. 28.
Xeni Gwet’in is located in the Nemiah Valley about 187 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake and Jimmy Lulua said many people from the community are encouraging him to run.
“People are telling me it’s ‘your turn to take over.’”
This will be his first foray into politics and something he had not considered until now.
“Our community has always had good leadership, but it’s time for a change,” he explained. “Not to undercut what the past leadership has done. They have done a really good job on our title court case. But I think times have changed and there are new ways to do things.”
One of the main issues facing his community is health, Lulua said.
”It doesn’t matter what First Nations community you are from across Canada, the main problem is safe housing and ensuring people live health lives.”
Presently Lulua works for the Tsilhqot’in National Government as a traditional wellness co-ordinator.
“I was raised traditionally,” he added. “I know my culture and I am a really healthy individual. I’m also drug and alcohol free.”
In his capacity as wellness co-ordinator, he has been working on a traditional food pilot project with Interior Health and the First Nations Health Authority.
“It would see traditional foods as a menu option — first in Deni House and then in the hospital hopefully. Just like vegan options there would be traditional foods for native and non-natives — people who grew up on wild game.”
If elected, Lulua said he would move to live in Xeni Gwet’in.
He lived there year-round until he was about 10 years old, growing up “in the bush” and said he was not aware there was even a place called Williams Lake until he was seven or eight years old.
“I know my country and my background and quite a lot of people in the Cariboo Chilcotin,” he said, noting he is semi-fluent in Tsilhqot’in.
A decade ago, Lulua initiated the Xeni Gwet’in Youth Wagon Trip.
At the time he was a youth worker in the community, and saw the week-long trip from Nemiah Valley to the Williams Lake Stampede as a way to connect children with horses, the land and their elders.
He has worked in the school district and has been taking courses to complete a teaching degree through the University of British Columbia through distance learning.
Lulua could continue with his university courses, if he becomes chief, but noted perhaps he would only take one at a time so he could devote his time to the community.
“I am also a volunteer coach for Mt. Timothy Ski Area for the Nancy Greene Ski League for 10 Saturdays in the winter.”
Lulua said the community is under a custom election, which has five-year terms for chief and councillors. If elected, Lulua would replace present chief, Roger William, who has been on council since first elected in 1988.