Aaron Sumexheltza first dipped his toe into the waters of provincial politics in 2016, when he unsuccessfully challenged Harry Lali for the NDP nomination in Fraser-Nicola. Now, almost four years later, he has been acclaimed (not without controversy) as the NDP’s candidate in the riding, and says he is ready whenever an election is called.
“My job right now is to begin working as the NDP candidate,” he says. “The next election is scheduled for fall 2021, but if it’s earlier my team and I will be ready.”
Sumexheltza (pronounced Shoo-muh-hetsa) is a practising lawyer with his own practice; he is also a part-time lawyer for the Nicola Valley Indigenous Justice Centre. He ran as Aaron Sam in 2016, but has since changed to an ancestral surname, which is that of an ancestor who was a chief at Pukaist, between Ashcroft and Spences Bridge, more than 130 years ago. His grandmother is from that area, and he says he has family and friends all over the riding.
“I was chief for six years in my community [Lower Nicola Band], and live in Merritt with my wife and son. I care passionately for the people who live in this riding, its natural beauty, and the way of life. I also feel that with my background as a lawyer and former community leader, and my track record and experience relating to business, I have a lot to offer, and that’s the reason I’m running. If I’m elected as MLA I want to make a difference for people and families who live all across the riding.”
He says that while he does not claim to be an expert on issues in all other parts of riding, he is committed to visiting communities like Ashcroft and Cache Creek to listen to people.
“One of the best ways to be an effective leader is to listen to the people and hear what their concerns are. Only then I can go to Victoria and be an effective MLA for everyone in the riding.”
He acknowledges that while we are in the midst of a pandemic, he hopes that at some point in the future we will be moving on from that. “A lot of people are suffering now, and it’s really important that we support businesses and opportunities where we can create employment for people. I support moving ahead with major infrastructure projects so that people in our communities can benefit from that work.”
When he was Chief of the Lower Nicola Band in 2016 (he is currently a councillor), a solar farm was installed on their community school. “At the time it was the largest community solar project in the province. I give credit to the current chief and other councillors for continuing with those sorts of initiatives.
“We recently got more funding to continue solar projects, and I’m really proud of the fact that we’re continuing along in that way. In Merritt, in Ashcroft and Cache Creek, there’s a lot of sun, and it’s great that we can utilize the natural energy of the sun to power our buildings and communities.”
He says that he is proud of the work that Premier John Horgan’s government has done on managing the COVID-19 crisis. “I believe that, especially where we have a lot of people worried about their health and future, we need to continue investing in health care and make sure we do that in small and rural communities, not just the urban centres.”
Sumexheltza was acclaimed as the NDP candidate in Fraser-Nicola on Sept. 10, and says that since then he has received texts, phone messages, and emails from people across the riding expressing their support and excitement for the fact that he’s running.
“I’ve been building a team and know that I can solidify that team. I’m doing everything I can and working hard to build some excitement in the riding. Hopefully I can build trust with constituents and be the next MLA in Fraser-Nicola.”
Campaigning in a pandemic is something he has talked about with his team. “The safety of the people is the most important thing. I anticipate there will be a lot less personal one-on-one engagement, so we’ll be looking at other ways to campaign. That will include phone calls, social media, other ways. It’s something new, but the health and safety of those in the riding is the most important thing.”
While Fraser-Nicola is widely seen as a “swing” riding, Sumexheltza says he doesn’t feel any pressure. “I feel I need to work hard and engage with people in the communities. I believe I’m the best candidate to work with John Horgan and make a real difference for people.”