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Assembly of First Nations vote to elect new chief: Here’s what you need to know

The Assembly of First Nations is set to elect its new national chief this week in Ottawa. The Eastern Eagles Mi'kmaq drumming group performs at the beginning of the AFN annual general assembly, in Halifax, Tuesday, July 11, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese.

A new leader of a national advocacy organization is set to be voted in this week, as Canada’s First Nations chiefs gather together to cast their ballots.

The national chief election for the Assembly of First Nations will begin on Dec. 6. Voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots, online or in person, at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa. Ballots can only be cast by First Nations chiefs or designated representatives, each of whom holds exactly one vote to represent their member nation.

As part of the organization’s election procedures, a chief or representative is considered a member of the assembly if they are registered.

A national chief is elected once they receive 60 per cent or more of the vote.

The organization, as described online, is a “national advocacy organization that works to advance the collective aspirations of First Nations.” It further states that it hopes to advise, guide, and support initiatives “to improve the lives of all First Nations in Canada.”

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This year’s election is taking place in the backdrop of a special chiefs assembly between Dec. 5 and 7. It also follows the ouster of former chief RoseAnne Archibald back in June this year. Her removal was supported by 71 per cent of the overall vote.

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Archibald’s tenure as national chief was marred with allegations of harassment and bullying. She had also been suspended from the assembly’s executive committee and national board of directors in 2022.

Michael Hutchinson, the assembly’s former communications manager, said that the election will highlight a number of key issues for communities being represented at the assembly. Among them are policing, availability of adequate housing and emergency service preparedness.

“The (assembly) is a big umbrella. It has to represent First Nations … all the way from the East Coast to the West Coast. There are different situations (across) Canada,” Hutchinson said. “The issues in one place may not translate to issues in another place. That’s something that every national chief has to deal with.”

The former communications manager noted that that while the assembly does represent different communities, its role is likened to an association like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

With this year’s election, Hutchinson said, there are a number of viable candidates able to take on the role. But he hopes to see a woman elected once more.

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“I do believe that many of our nations were matriarchal. Women’s voices should be heard, and I appreciate that in the AFN system,” he said.

Candidates running

  • Reginald Bellerose, former Chief of the Muskowekwan First Nation
  • Craig Makinaw, former Chief of the Ermineskin Cree Nation
  • Sheila North (Wikahsko Iskwew), former Grand Chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak
  • David Pratt, First Vice Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations
  • Dean Sayers, former Chief of the Batchewana First Nation
  • Cindy Woodhouse, Regional Chief with the Assembly of First Nations
Click to play video: 'Guarantor form to remove barriers to voting for Manitoba First Nations, grand chief says'
Guarantor form to remove barriers to voting for Manitoba First Nations, grand chief says

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