Our intern, Megan, is currently at the Assembly of First Nations election in Toronto. Today’s blog focuses on her observations from the candidates forum and speeches. In her next blog, she will cover the results.
I have spent many hours over the last month researching the Assembly of First Nations election candidates, trying to make an informed prediction about the results.
I truly did not know what to expect when I arrived at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre yesterday morning. But I was pleasantly welcomed by many smiling, interested faces from across the country, all there to better their communities.
At 1:15pm, the convention convened for the obligatory candidate’s forum. This is for the 633 Chiefs and Proxies that are here. They had travelled many kilometres, from fly in communities to big cities, from Yukon to Newfoundland to British Columbia to hear what these eight candidates had to say. They were here to make an informed vote for the next National Chief. The expansive conference room was packed, as they explained the scenario. Each candidate had 15 minutes allotted, where they or some of their nominators (who must be chiefs) could speak. This was to be followed by two hours of questions by Chiefs and Proxies.
These speeches were a remarkable showing of the talent and experience of the candidates. There were obvious themes which all the candidates discussed. The first candidate, George Stanley, of Treaty Six territory, spoke of first nation jurisdiction on their natural resources. He was impassioned about the First Nations right to an economy based on the resources of their own land. This common theme was mentioned by all candidates. It is clear they all want some form of resource sharing, and feel it is time that the First Nations have true access to their land and to a thriving economy via resource control.
Shawn Atleo took the stage with the experience and polish of a politician. His platform was easy to understand, and drew applause, whistles and a standing ovation from the audience. It’s not hard to see why people like Atleo. He is inspiring and passionate, and his campaign slogan “We Are Stronger Together” struck the right cord with the audience. His platform was built on the topics which have resonated through the assembly: moving forward and acting on treaties, building an economy while being environmentally sensitive, building education, and ending violence against women.
Terrance Nelson was certainly the wildcard of the group, and lived up to his radical reputation. He “guaranteed” that the Northern Gateway Pipeline project would not happen if he was elected chief, and talked about involving OPEC money in improving First Nations housing.
The experienced Bill Erasumus, Dene National Chief for over 20 years also surprised, as his speech was very sparse. He had two nominators speak for the majority of his time, and got very emotional when he took the podium. He spoke of the anger that he has seen in First Nations, and it is evident how it truly affected him, and he craves change.
However, it was the women that stunned the room. The unprecedented number of women running in this election was mentioned, but as one candidate said, it does not matter the gender, it is about who is the best for the job. Some of these women truly showed they are that candidate.
Pam Palmater was fired up and enthusiastic, aggressive on her platform of creating a respectful nation-to-nation relationship between the AFN and the Canadian government.
Lawyer Joan Jack was wise and said she no longer wants to be a victim, nor a tyrant. She too is ready for government-to-government agreements of treaties and implementation of inherent rights. Eloquently she stated, “We must disagree with dignity, and move through conflict.”
Ellen Gabriel surprised me with her quiet power. She was the international advocate during the Oka Crisis, and her experience is obvious. Her articulacy as she discussed the self-determining rights of the First Nations was notable. She said, “If we are going to proceed and succeed in the future, we should not be going to the Supreme Courts….we should be going to the international level, because our treaties and rights are of Nations.”
Diane Kelly, who had the difficult task of speaking last, highlighted her platform while sharing stories of her inspiration. She wants to achieve resource equity, protect treaty rights, strive for justice, and develop a plan for the structure and effectiveness of the AFN.
The result of the first ballot, to be announced at 12:30 today, will be a fascinating reveal of the priorities and needs of the communities of the AFN for the next term. It will show how much change they are ready for, as the candidates are promoting some very strong platforms, and who they believe will be able to deliver it. After a strong showing from the candidates yesterday, it is sure to be an interesting ballot process today and tomorrow.
Megan (CIVIX Intern)
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