Meet Your Chief
Chief Doris Bill of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation speaks softly but her commitment to creating a safer, healthier community at the McIntyre subdivision in Whitehorse can be heard as far away as Ottawa.
It’s a bright, sunny, warm day, as she sits down to grant a television camera interview. It’s also a reversal of roles for the second term leader who spent more than three decades interviewing others as a news and current affairs reporter. Wired for sound she adjusts her shirt after I hear a scratching noise through my headphones.
“I think my button might be running against it (microphone),” as she resets herself in front of the camera.
Chief Bill has been described as a woman with a heart bigger than her five-foot four-inch frame. She wears it on her sleeve when she speaks about youth and people living with challenges like homelessness, substance abuse and safety for women. These are issues close to her heart. She doesn’t just champion these causes since it makes sense to do so. She fights to change these issues because she has experienced them also.
“When I first started on council there were a lot of youth in our community that were hurting,” she said. “It wasn’t just our community it was also outside of Whitehorse.”
“I was young once myself and I went through a great deal as a youth,” adds Bill.
She opens up about how difficult it was to be raised in foster care and group homes. The struggle of living without a mother and a father. She explains that she understands how young people feel who go through the child welfare system.
“So, for me I relate very well with young people. I speak to a lot of them and I look for programs that are meaningful to youth,” she said.
One of those programs is the community mural project that the Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) has partnered with the Youth of Today Society (YOTS) over. Around Whitehorse, several buildings are now decorated with First Nation themed art created by and painted by youth at risk in the city. Kids that were once locked away in their basements or stuck behind a game console have forged new friendships and support networks through the project. It’s a program that causes Chief Bill to beam when she speaks about it.
“Just look at them,” she exclaimed! “Just look at them.”
“They’re engaged. They love it. It’s fantastic what they are doing and the community loves it!”
She said the mural project has been so well received that they have had no trouble getting KDFN youth to become part of the program.
“It’s a great project and I am so proud to be a part of it,” added Bill.
The Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief switches gears and we begin to talk about her daughter Cheyenne. She reiterates her life in group homes and foster care and admits coming out of that system made her hard.
“I had really built a wall around myself. I protected myself from getting too close to people. I was always like that.”
“My daughter helped me bring those walls down.”
The Chief said her daughter challenged her about her behavior pattern. Bill said that made her pause and think about what she was doing and how she was doing it. She admits that she worked hard on herself and because of that she will always do what’s right for young people.
Over the last few years there has been tragedy at the McIntyre subdivision. Several deaths have shaken the First Nation to its core and Chief Bill said that, during times of crisis, she has sent members of her staff into the community to check up on several youths. She said she needs to make sure they are ok.
She goes on to talk about how she has lost both her brothers to the streets. One passed away far from the Yukon and another passed away on the streets of Whitehorse. But, she has built a connection to them both and it remains a fierce part of her inner strength.
“I think for me it’s probably why I have compassion for people who are on the street. For people who do not have a home. For people who are lost. For people who are hurting.”
“I do what I can and I think, as Chief of Kwanlin Dün, I have a big voice and I use that voice when I can on their behalf,” she said. “If I can move mountains for them, then so be it, I will move mountains for them.”
She goes on to add that working with the Mayor of Whitehorse, the Yukon Government, the Ta’an Kwach’an Council, along with numerous NGO’s and those with lived-experience, has been gratifying to help make progress for homelessness. Its work, she admits, she could not have done alone and she’s amazed at how much they’ve achieved together for the issue and the people living in it.
Doris Bill came to the role of Chief with a plan to make her community safe and healthy. It’s a long road ahead but she’s helped create a community safety officer program, built an anonymous phone tip line, and engaged youth programs to provide hope. She’s caught the attention of the federal government in Ottawa and she’s not ready to stop yet.
“I’m very happy with the way things are going right now. I think the results speak for themselves.”