CALGARY — Shawn Atleo is the new national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
Atleo, an assembly vice-chief from British Columbia, was victorious after the eighth ballot when his rival, Perry Bellegarde, a former leader of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, conceded despite saying earlier that he would not.
Candidates required a 60 per cent majority of votes cast to be declared the new chief. Neither Atleo nor Bellegarde had reached the magic mark as balloting continued through the night.
The marathon voting session, which lasted almost 24 hours, had seen the number of delegates voting slowly dwindle.
“This is a very small effort when it compares to the plight of our people and what our people go through every single day and that must remain our focus. It will remain our focus,” Atleo said before voting on the final ballot got underway.
Bellegarde, who earlier mused about changing the criteria in future elections, said the elders had spoken and the voting would continue until the necessary numbers were reached.
The two leaders were tied after the fourth ballot.
After the first ballot, Atleo had looked like he was pulling into a commanding lead with 43 per cent compared to Bellegarde’s 29 per cent.
But third-place candidate John Beaucage, former grand chief of the Union of Ontario Indians, withdrew when he pulled only 15 per cent of the vote, sending his supporters to Bellegarde’s camp.
So did Bill Wilson, a B.C. consultant and veteran of political battles to have native rights in the Constitution. He had only one per cent of the votes while Terry Nelson, chief of the Roseau River First Nation in Manitoba, got 10 per cent.
Candidates receiving less than 15 per cent were automatically dropped from the next ballot.
Atleo replaces Phil Fontaine, who did not seek re-election after three terms as the organization’s leader.