(AFN candidates, from left to right, Perry Bellegarde, Leon Jourdain and Ghislain Picard. Jaydon Flett Photo)
APTN National News
WINNIPEG–The three candidates for national chief of the Assembly of First Nations made their cases, Tuesday, to about 400 chiefs who gathered at the Winnipeg Convention Centre.
It was the first day of a special meeting that will culminate in a vote Wednesday.
AFN candidates Perry Bellegarde, Leon Jourdain and Ghislain Picard each delivered a speech and then faced questions from the floor.
Bellegarde appeared to have the most organized campaign, with some supporters wearing yellow t-shirts bearing their name. Theycheered and clapped several times during his speech.
Bellegarde unveiled a detailed set of promises that included pushing the Harper government to call an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, create a national strategy to support Indigenous languages, negotiate a new fiscal arrangement with Ottawa and push for resource revenue sharing.
“Let’s walk together and go forward in unity and strength,” said Bellegarde.
Picard, a long-time regional chief for Quebec, said he wouldn’t wait for Ottawa to call an inquiry, but would explore creating an independent commission to investigate the high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Picard also said the AFN had been rattled and needed to regain its footing.
“Our house has been shaken,” said Picard.
Jourdain called for the scrapping of the Indian Act.
“No more Indian Act, Indian Act has got to go,” said Jourdain, who once launched a failed bid to head the Congress of Aboriginal People.
All three candidates agreed on the need to reopen the Canadian constitution to enshrine First Nations place within the fabric of the federation.
The first candidate to get 60 per cent of the votes cast will win the race. There were about 400 chiefs registered as of Wednesday afternoon.
Both Picard and Bellegarde were introduced by a chief from British Columbia, indicating how important it was to win support in that province.
British Columbia is home to a third of all First Nation communities in Canada, making the province an important one in the one-chief-one-vote system.
Picard was introduced by Skawahlook First Nation Chief Maureen Chapman. Bellegarde was introduced by Tsilqot’in Chief Roger William of the now prominent Supreme Court of Canada decision from this past summer.
Jourdain, who was hit in the past with a sexual assault charge that was eventually dropped, was introduced by Marilyn Buffalo, a former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
There has been little excitement around this race for AFN national chief.
The election was triggered after former national chief Shawn Atleo suddenly resigned in the midst of a raging debate over federal legislation on First Nation education.
Bellegarde said after his speech that he believed the race will come down to who can corral the most proxies in their camp.
Only chiefs can vote in the election for AFN natioanl chief. Chiefs who can’t attend the vote can name a representative, or proxy, to vote on their behalf.
More chiefs are expected to arrive Wednesday for the vote.