Meet the new chairperson for the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians

Austin Lowes
Austin Lowes

Editor's Note: The online version of this story has been updated.

SAULT STE. MARIE — Following the special election which ended on Dec. 7, Austin Lowes will soon be officially picking up the reins as the chairperson for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

"I feel fortunate to be in a role where I can increase the betterment of my tribe and tribal people, and I feel blessed that the membership is trusting me with my leadership abilities," said Lowes.

Lowes is from Sault Ste. Marie, and holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Lake Superior State University.

Lowes also has a master's in social work from Michigan State University and was awarded fellowships from the National Congress of American Indians and the National Association for his social work within tribes. As a social worker, Lowes has worked with several tribes, including the Sault tribe, the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, and the Bay Mills Indian Community.

Lowes was previously the vice chair of the Sault tribe's board of directors and has served on the board since 2020.

The position of chairperson has been in flux since May when Aaron Payment resigned from office. The seat remained empty until DJ Hoffman was appointed in June.

More:Payment resigns as chair of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians

More:DJ Hoffman is the new chairman of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians

Hoffman later received a vote of no confidence from the newly elected board members.

Following the vote of no confidence, the tribe decided to host a special election instead of leaving the position empty for the remainder of Payment's original term.

More:Tribe board votes no confidence in DJ Hoffman

More:Hoffman to get second chance in special tribal election

Lowes won the special election with 3,719 votes over fellow candidates Bridgett Sorenson and Hoffman.

On Tuesday, Dec. 20, Lowes will officially be sworn in as chairperson of the tribe until the natural end of Payment's original term in June 2024.

Since Payment's resignation, Lowes had been the acting chair of the tribe and said he is confident in his skills with the position.

"I've been the acting chair for the last few months, so I have a good taste of the position. I know what that entails and I know the commitment that it requires," said Lowes.

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Lowes said he views the job as a way to help people, and it is more of an extension of his previous work in social care, except on a much larger scale.

"I come from a background of helping. Prior to being in tribal government, I was a social worker," said Lowes. "I really kept the social work hat on coming into this position, acting like this job is macro level social work rather than helping individuals."

Even though he will only be holding the position for half of a term before there is another election, Lowes plans to use his time to address the needs of the community. When asked about his main priorities, Lowes said his main focus is to learn what the needs of the community are.

"My priorities are identifying what our needs for the tribe are, and either strengthening or creating new services to meet those needs," said Lowes. "I live in the community, I'm available to community members and stakeholders, that's how I learn about what the needs are for the community."

There are several other specific issues that Lowes wishes to address while in office.

"A big concern right now is that Native Americans are disproportionately impacted by homelessness, even in Sault Ste. Marie," said Lowes. "We're addressing that with new transitional and emergency housing programs."

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This article originally appeared on The Sault News: Meet the new chairperson for the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians