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Candidate Cindy Woodhouse speaks during the All Candidates Forum on the first day of the annual Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly (SCA) in Ottawa, on Dec. 5.Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

Cindy Woodhouse, a regional chief from Manitoba, has received the most support in six rounds of voting in the election to name the next national chief of the Assembly of First Nations but she has yet to meet the threshold required to win.

The national chief, which is a key role to advocate for legislative reform and budgetary commitments from the federal government, must be elected with a 60-per-cent majority of the votes.

A seventh round of voting will begin Thursday morning with results to be revealed around 12:45 p.m. EST. Additional rounds could ensue after that in order to meet the threshold. On Wednesday evening, the AFN’s chief electoral officer said voting could not continue because an Ottawa convention centre where the vote is taking place was set to close.

In the sixth round of voting, Ms. Woodhouse received 234 of 415 votes (51 per cent). David Pratt, the vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, received 181 votes (39 per cent).

The AFN is an advocacy organization that represents more than 900,000 people in 634 communities. Whomever takes on the role as national chief will face the challenge of trying to enhance credibility and the profile of the organization.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is expected to have a close working relationship with whomever takes over as a national chief. Throughout his tenure as Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau has repeatedly emphasized that the relationship with Indigenous people is the government’s most important relationship.

The organization typically holds an election for a national chief every three years. This vote is taking place after a challenging period inside the AFN.

RoseAnne Archibald, who had been serving as national chief since July, 2021, was ousted in June from her position after 71 per cent of 231 chiefs voted to dismiss her, finding that they did not have confidence in her leadership.

Ms. Archibald, from the Taykwa Tagamou Nation in Northeastern Ontario, was the first woman to hold the position in the organization’s 50-year history. Her removal followed an external review that found evidence that she had harassed staff members. Ms. Archibald denied wrongdoing.

The organization has since been led by an interim national chief, Joanna Bernard.

In an address to the special chiefs meeting on Tuesday, Ms. Bernard thanked First Nations for putting trust in her to lead over the course of a six-month period. She described the role as being a lot of work, and said she is anxious to see who the next national chief will be.

“I trust that the leadership will choose the appropriate person to move and advocate on your behalf and I thank you very much,” she told the assembly in Ottawa.

A current issue for the AFN is its opposition to Bill C-53, which recognizes Métis governments in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Some chiefs believe the legislation was introduced by the federal government without proper consultation and have concerns that it could pose a threat to First Nations’ inherent and constitutional rights.

In response to some of the criticism, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree recently told a parliamentary committee that the pushback is “largely based on misconceptions.” Ottawa has given no indication that it plans to rescind the bill.

Other key issues for the AFN include advocating for First Nations housing and infrastructure spending, and addressing drinking water advisories. Last month it released a national climate strategy, which underscores the need for action led by First Nations. The organization also sent a delegation to COP28 in Dubai.

Cindy Woodhouse: Ms. Woodhouse, from Pinaymootang First Nation, is the Manitoba regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations. She previously worked for other AFN leaders, including Perry Bellegarde and Shawn Atleo. As regional chief, she was the lead negotiator for the AFN on a multibillion-dollar settlement over child-welfare services for First Nations children.

David Pratt: Mr. Pratt is from the Muscowpetung First Nation in Saskatchewan. He has been serving his second term as the first vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.

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