Make that four candidates for the United Conservative Party (UCP) nomination for Lesser Slave Lake. Former Bigstone Cree Nation Chief Silas Yellowknee is the latest – or at least the fourth one to come to our attention. The others are Scott Sinclair of Slave Lake, Martine Carifelle of Swan River and Jerrad Cunningham of Joussard.
Yellowknee served as Bigstone chief from 2018 to 2022, when he lost to the current chief. Prior to being elected chief, he served several years in bylaw enforcement with the M.D. of Opportunity.
The Leader reached Yellowknee last week just after he’d been interviewed by the UCP’s candidate review committee. We asked him if he thought he passed the test.
“I think I did!” he said.
Yellowknee said one of the questions was ‘Why do you think you’re the best candidate?’ He told them: ‘I don’t think I am. I know I am,’ and went on to tell them about his 14 years of experience as an elected leader, dealing with federal and provincial government ministers and so on.
“I’ve got a really good relationship with a lot of ministers,” he said.
Also a not-so-good relationship with at least one. That would be Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange, with whom Yellowknee said he “butted heads on the new curriculum.”
That was during his term as Bigstone Chief. Prior to that he served several terms as a band councillor, beginning in 2004 and running to 2014.
Born in Desmarais in 1961, Yellowknee graduated from Mistassiniy High School in 1979. His first employment out of high school was in the oilfield, on the rigs. Later, he was “the first local operator in the oilfield. I did that for a number of years.” He married “my high school sweetheart,” Gloria, in 1982. They have two children.
Then he went logging for a few years, working for his late father-in-law, Eric Auger. All along, Yellowknee says, he never gave up a dream he had of being an RCMP officer. Eventually he did, encouraged, he says, by his mother-in-law.
Yellowknee moved from the RCMP to being a bylaw enforcement officer with the M.D. of Opportunity. He also put in time doing traffic control, for the M.D. as well as the oil industry. Somewhere in there he spent time operating a gas plant.
Yellowknee had run for band council once or twice, unsuccessfully, before breaking through in 2004. His successful campaign for Bigstone chief in 2018 was also not his first attempt.
A couple of unexpected challenges during his term as chief were wildfires that forced evacuation and then COVID-19 pandemic. Working in tandem with M.D. of Opportunity reeve Marcel Auger, he says they put measures in place that “kept COVID out of Wabasca for six months. It worked.”
After losing out for a second term as chief in September of 2022, Yellowknee went to work managing a local grocery story.
Back in December, he says he was asked by somebody if he had thought about running for MLA.
“I said yeah, I have thought about it.”
That started the ball rolling.
Yellowknee says it was a bit of a scramble to come up with the required number of signatures – also to sell party memberships right at the last minute. He says he found out about the Feb. 4 deadline for selling memberships at about 5 p.m. the day before.