Friday, March 20, 2009

AFN Chief Race

In Calgary in July the Assembly of First Nations will be choosing their national chief for the next three years. Phil Fontaine has been the national chief since 2003, he also was national chief from 1997 to 2000.

The AFN elects the national chief through a vote of all of the chiefs in the country, there are about 635 electors. The voting is very similar to the traditional political party leadership election, a series of votes after each round the lowest candidate is dropped. There is a big differences, chiefs can give their proxy to others to vote.

I suspect that there will be about 560 votes represented in Calgary in July, this means 280 votes is what is needed to win.

There are three declared candidates for the post:

John Beaucage
He is a member of Wasauksing First Nation and been elected the head of the Anishinabek Nation in Ontario. There are 42 members and if he carries allow of them, he is 15% of the way to the numbers he needs to get elected.

He is well educated and has been around the halls of power long enough not to be intimidated. He was educated as an economist, and this is a plus for me.

His platform is reformist, but not dramatic. I would like to see someone run for national chief and advocate for one person one vote to elect the national chief, but that is a radical shift in power. Reformers have had troubles staying in power in the AFN. There has been some talk that he might go forward with something like this if elected.

Ovide Mercredi was elected as a reformer in 1991, he managed to be reelected in 1994 because he dramatically helped raise the profile of First Nations issues, but ulitmately he alieanated too many chiefs and the relationship with the federal government was not positive. His defeat in Vancouver in 1997 was hard on him. Phil Fontaine won that time because he said he would cooperate with the federal government and get more for First Nations that way.

In 2000 Matthew Coon Come defeated Phil Fontaine because Phil was seen as being too close to the federal Liberal party. Matthew is one of the most inspiring and principled aborginal leaders I have ever met, he lived his talk. He was elected as a reformer, but there was a moral superiority he exuded and his relationship with the federal government was non-existant. He was badly defeated in Phil Fontaine in 2003.

John has a good web presence, making it easier to observe the election process than in past years. He has a facebook group

Perry Bellegarde
He is a member of the Little Black Bear First Nation from Saskatchewan. He has served as AFN vice chief for Saskatchewan and been the chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

He has been public about a run for the AFN chief job since last summer, though only officially got into the race last month. He is very light in any details on what his platform means, frankly he sounds like he would be offering a status quo leadership in the AFN.

His facebook group is here.

Shawn Atleo
He is from the Ahousat First Nation near Tofino, part of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Nation. He has been BC AFN Vice Chief since the fall of 2003. He has given the AFN Vice Chief role in BC a higher degree of importance than it had in the pervious decade.

His website looks slick, but does not have a lot of details. He does have a facebook group.

He is a younger generation of leadership, and is able to work well with the people in power. He is by no means a radical, but the generational difference will make a huge change within the AFN.

BC has close to one third of the chiefs in Canada, so you would think that a chief in BC would easily be able to win the national chief's position. The reality is that BC First Nations lack any political unity. We have three province wide organizations representing BC First Nations, the First Nations Summit, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the BC AFN. The last number of years has seen more and more work by certain leaders in BC to bring the various groups together and have a stronger unity. My friend Chief Robert Shintah has pushed for this all the time.

If Shawn Atleo can get the support of the a significant portion of the First Nation Summit regulars, he has a base of about 100 going into Calgary. The last national chief to come from BC was George Manuel who was chief from 1970 to 1976. It has been 33 years since the AFN has chosen a BC leader.

Will Phil Fountaine run again? That is not clear at this point, though last summer it sounded like he was running. It is also not clear if anyone else is going to be in the running.

At this point I see Shawn Atleo and John Beaucage being the leaders, but everything depends on how well their campaign teams are doing in getting firm support from chiefs across the country. Ther are chiefs out there how help boost the voice of their people by getting numerous proxies together. One chief is one chief, someone with ten proxies can get a lot more influence.

As I hear more, I will post more on the race. You can follow it at this facebook group.
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