STU students looking to create change on N.B. reserve

Alex Tomer, 24, is running for a band councillor position on Kingsclear First Nation. His father, Paul, is the current chief. (Tom Bateman/AQ)
Gabe Atwin, a 44-year-old former marine, is vying for chief on Kingsclear First Nation. He wants to emphasize education. (Tom Bateman/AQ)

Two STU students will be running for election in the Kingsclear First Nation band council on Feb. 27.

Both look to use their experience to turn around a community that is struggling financially, and have a strong focus on the quality of life for youth, including encouraging the pursuit of education.

Gabe Atwin, a 44-year-old first-year student, formerly of the United States Marine Corps, was elected as a council member in 2010. This time, he is running for chief.

Alex Tomer, third-year student, who plans to double major in philosophy and English, will be running for a councillor position. The 24-year-old’s father, Paul, is the current chief, and will be running for re-election against Atwin and several others.

Both have a unique perspective on what their time at STU will help them bring to the table.

“I think that just being in school will improve my effectiveness in communicating and understanding what our needs are,” Atwin said.

“But I’m not only in school for myself. I want to be an example to the kids. Education is important and it’s available.”

Tomer said addiction, psychological and financial problems are interconnected on reserves and can’t ever be separated.

“You have to go to the fundamental level to see what’s causing those problems, and I think that’s where my education is going to help me, looking at things from a different perspective.”

Tomer and Atwin are running for election at a time when the reserve is struggling with financial problems that have led it to be placed under co-management, where a co-manager is hired to help manage the reserve.

The next step will be third-party management, meaning the federal government will step in and take over most of the financial decisions for the community.

Both Atwin and Tomer agree this would be a major setback for the community.

“If we were to fail in utilizing the co-management effectively, as well as incorporating our own financial plans and staying on track and being productive, [the third party] is certainly a possibility,” said Atwin.

There has been no indication so far this is going to happen.

Atwin has been involved with the community since retiring from the marines and returning to Kingsclear in 2009. The following year he was elected as a councillor. He also works with the youth, coaching baseball, softball, and hockey teams in the area.

Atwin wants to be an active member of the community. He said his background in finance and personnel management with the marines could be an asset to turning around the troubled reserve.

Tomer has jumped at the opportunity after being a surprise nominee for band council.

In order for a member of the reserve to run for council, they must be nominated and seconded during a meeting at town hall.

He said he was never interested in a political career, but is excited for the opportunity to give back to the community.

He said he wants the opportunity to work with a youth population that largely feels the world off the reserve is not their own. He is especially interested in the reserve’s education initiatives.

“It’s not only that we have money to send native kids to school, but that when they get here they are given tools to overcome the challenges of living out of the reserve for the first time.”

Having lived with his mother off of the reserve roughly half his life, Tomer feels he is in a unique situation to help the youth make that transition.

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