(AFN Electoral officers delivering the results of the first ballot Wednesday in Vancouver)
The first ballot in the election of the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations did not declare a winner.
Perry Bellegarde got the most votes with 286 but needed 323, or 60 per cent of the 538 votes to be declared a winner.
Sheila North had the next highest at 106, Miles Richardson with 87, Russ Diabo with 40 and Katherine Whitecloud got 19 ballots.
Because Whitecloud had the lowest amount she is eliminated from the second ballot.
The first ballot wasn’t without its controversy.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett was spotted leaving the room of the Alberta caucus Wednesday morning.
Bennett told APTN News she was invited to deal with an “issue.”
But Diabo took issue with her meeting with Alberta chiefs and proxies as ballots were being cast.
He said it tainted the election process and Bennett should have declined the invitation until the election was over.
“At no point was the election for national chief ever discussed. We have no role directly or indirectly in who the AFN chooses as its National Chief and we are committed to working with whoever occupies that office,” said a spokesperson for Bennett in a statement to APTN.
Click here for APTN’s full coverage of the AFN election: AFN Vancouver
Each of the candidates gave speeches to chiefs and proxies Tuesday.
Diabo didn’t pull any punches in his address.
He said the lobby group has become a “cheerleader” for the federal government’s approach to First Nations’ issues under incumbent candidate Bellegarde.
“Their job is supposed to warn the chiefs of any dangers from Ottawa, but they aren’t doing that,” Diabo said. “They’ve basically turned into a cheerleader for the federal government.”
Bellegarde defended his record.
“We opened the doors to the chiefs so you could take your issues forward. You need to have access to the prime ministers, the cabinet ministers … that’s how we made our organization, the AFN, more effective in that way,” said Bellegarde.
He received several loud rounds of applause from the crowd during his speech. There were just over 2,600 people registered to the event, including 538 chiefs and proxies that cast a ballot.
Bellegarde has called the Trudeau government’s investments of about $17 billion since 2016 “historical.”
“We advocated for investments every fiscal year. Yes, that $17 billion is not enough and we know that,” he said. “We have more work to do.”
North also took aim at the AFN and Bellegarde.
“We need a national chief that can sit at the table with the Liberals without becoming one,” North said.
Trudeau has put a lot of money into the AFN since coming into power in late 2015.
Under the Trudeau government, funding for the AFN has nearly tripled from about $13 million to approximately $32 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year according to financial statements released Tuesday.
Richardson said First Nations are at a crossroads — continue to live under the Indian Act or move away from it as sovereign nations.
“I want to say this to you, all of the chiefs assembled here, we are the change,” Richardson said. “The people that have the power to choose our path forward are sitting in this room.”
Whitecloud’s speech that focused on hope and encouragement.
“You have a responsibility to your people, to your nation because every single person is important,” she said. “Lead, because that is what our children expect of you.”