National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde addresses the crowd during the conclusion of the AFN's Annual General Assembly in Fredericton, N.B., on July 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Stephen MacGillivray

AFN national chief election goes to third ballot

AFN national chief election goes to third ballot

AFN national chief election goes to third ballot

OTTAWA — The virtual election for national chief of the Assembly of First Nations will head to a third ballot, after two rounds of voting failed to see any of the candidates reach the necessary 60 per cent threshold of support.

The two front-runners for national chief after both rounds of voting, held virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, are Reginald Bellerose of Saskatchewan and RoseAnne Archibald of Ontario.

Both candidates have been in a virtual dead heat after each of the two rounds.

After the first ballot, they were tied at 24 per cent of votes cast with just one vote separating the two.

After the second ballot, Bellerose garnered just over 32 per cent support with just three votes more than Archibald, who received just over 31 per cent of the total 351 votes cast.

Outgoing regional chief Kevin Hart from Manitoba received the lowest number of votes after the second ballot and was eliminated from the third round of voting.

In his concession speech, he threw his support behind Bellerose.

“It’s apparent from the voices of the chiefs that they want change at the national level and I want to acknowledge that,” Hart said.

He thanked the chiefs of the AFN for their support and the resources they shared for his campaign and the work many volunteers did to help their communities during the height of the pandemic.

Hart also shared concerns about a “data glitch” in the voting process, but said it was nonetheless important to proceed with voting because the AFN needs a national chief.

“Our unity is being questioned ever so more right now. We need to come together at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where we live,” he said.

A third round of voting is now going ahead to determine a winner.

Of the two front-runners, Archibald, who is from Taykwa Tagamou Nation and is the outgoing regional chief for Ontario, has been involved in First Nations politics for 31 years. She was the first woman and youngest chief elected to represent her home nation at 23 years of age and went on to also become the first woman and youngest deputy Grand Chief for Nishnawbe-Aski Nation in Ontario.

She campaigned on a platform to build a solid post-pandemic recovery plan for First Nations, to increase the involvement of women, youth and 2SLGBTQQIA+ peoples in the AFN’s political processes and to support and co-ordinate community-driven solutions to move First Nations beyond reliance on federal dollars toward economic self-sufficiency.

Archibald has also pledged to work with governments to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action, with specific goals of creating community-driven solutions for healing, similar to the former ‘Aboriginal Healing Foundation’ and to work with nations and survivors to establish memorials to those lost to residential schools.

Bellerose is also a familiar name in First Nations leadership. He has been serving as Chief of Muskowekwan First Nation for the last 17 years

He identified his top three campaign priorities as rights and jurisdiction, economic sovereignty and health and wellness.

His platform proposes to create and expand economic sovereignty among First Nations through economic development, supporting entrepreneurs and influencing national procurement processes.

Bellerose is also promising to launch a national discussion focused on establishing a First Nations economy that capitalizes on Indigenous rights, lands and jurisdiction to secure new markets nationally and internationally.

He believes the existing “colonial health system” has failed First Nations and that Indigenous Peoples should develop their own models of care.

The two other remaining candidates in the race are Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, who received 21 per cent of the votes cast on the second ballot and Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse from Alberta who received just under eight per cent.

Hart is not the only chief raising concerns about the voting process.

An attempt to put off the election for new national chief was made Tuesday during the opening day of the AFN’s 42nd annual general assembly.

A number of chiefs said they were troubled by the inability of chiefs in British Columbia to participate due to evacuations caused by ongoing wildfires.

Some also raised concerns about connectivity issues for some remote First Nations as well as other impediments caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The resolution calling for a delayed vote was eventually defeated. But some members say they are concerned the results could be challenged because while this resolution did receive the 60 per cent support needed to pass. Only about 20 per cent of eligible members of the AFN actually cast ballots Tuesday.

Every chief, or their designated proxy, for each First Nation with membership in the AFN is entitled to one vote.

Voter turnout was higher for the national chief elections Wednesday, with 367 and 351 members casting ballots in the first and second rounds of voting respectively — which accounts for over half of eligible voting members.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2021.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the surname of Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.

First Nations