Two candidates remain in the race to become the new national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, a role that will involve navigating working relationships with federal and provincial governments at a critical moment in reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
The election is being held online during the AFN annual general assembly. There were three rounds of voting on Wednesday evening and five contenders are now out of the race.
The candidates who entered the race are RoseAnne Archibald, who announced in May that she would not be seeking re-election as the Ontario regional chief of the AFN; Muskowekwan First Nation Chief Reginald Bellerose of Saskatchewan; Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, who represents 49 Northern Ontario communities; Jodi Calahoo-Stonehouse of Michel First Nation in Alberta; Kevin Hart, who has served as the AFN’s Manitoba regional chief; Lee Crowchild of Tsuut’ina First Nation in Alberta; and Cathy Martin of the Listuguj First Nation in Quebec.
In the first round of voting, there were 367 ballots cast. Ms. Archibald received 90 votes, Mr. Bellerose received 91, Mr. Fiddler received 79, Mr. Hart had 44 and Ms. Calahoo-Stonehouse had 41. Both Ms. Martin, who had 15 votes, and Mr. Crowchild, who had seven, dropped off the ballot for the next round.
There were 351 ballots cast in the second round. Mr. Bellerose had 113 votes, Ms. Archibald had 110, Mr. Fiddler received 76 and Ms. Calahoo-Stonehouse had 27. Mr. Hart, who had 25, dropped off the ballot. A third round of voting was to take place late Wednesday evening.
On the third ballot, there were 357 ballots cast. Mr. Bellerose received 144 votes, Ms. Archibald had 129, Mr. Fiddler received 64 and Ms. Calahoo-Stonehouse had 20.
Mr. Fiddler decided to withdraw from the fourth ballot to support Ms. Archibald, adding it is time for the national chief to be a woman for the first time.
Ms. Calahoo-Stonehouse did not have enough support to continue to the next round. Another round of voting will be held Thursday morning with Mr. Bellerose and Ms. Archibald on the ballot.
The national chief must be elected with a 60-per-cent majority.
Each First Nation has a representative who can vote in the election. They can be a First Nation’s chief, or a proxy. To be considered a member of the AFN, the chief or proxy must be registered for the assembly.
The vote is taking place while governments across Canada are facing pressure to advance reconciliation, particularly as the consequences of residential schools come into sharper focus. First Nations have announced preliminary discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves near three former schools in recent weeks.
The AFN is an advocacy organization representing more than 900,000 First Nations people in 634 communities across the country. The national chief plays a key role in trying to influence federal government policy.
The organization holds an election for the position every three years. The current national chief, Perry Bellegarde, was elected in late 2014 and re-elected in 2018. He announced in December that he would not run again.
In a recent exit interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Bellegarde said being national chief is challenging, but that he viewed the role as public service because of the impact the work has on people’s lives. He also said it requires balance: being a strong advocate for First Nations people while at the same time collaborating with government to influence policy and bring about legislative changes.
“I feel good. We moved the yardsticks, improved the lives of our people,” he said. “But we need to keep going and maintain momentum.”
According to the AFN charter, candidates for national chief must be 18 or older, of First Nations ancestry and members of First Nations communities in good standing with the AFN.
Some of the central issues being discussed during the election include treaty rights, self-government and supports for survivors of intergenerational trauma, including former residential school students. Candidates have also taken positions on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. (Last month, the Senate passed legislation requiring the federal government to ensure that Canadian laws are consistent with the declaration.)
In the lead-up to Wednesday’s vote, there were calls from some chiefs for the AFN to elect a woman for the first time in its 50-year history.
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