(The gateway to the voting booth for the AFN election for national chief. Photo Brandi Morin/APTN)
APTN National news
WINNIPEG — As chiefs began casting votes in the first ballot of the election for national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, no candidate appears to have a lock on the two regions with the largest number of possible votes: British Columbia and Ontario.
AFN national chief candidates Perry Bellegarde, Ghislain Picard and Leon Jourdain, made the rounds Wednesday through the regional caucus rooms trying to sway votes to their side.
It appeared that neither Ontario nor British Columbia chiefs nor proxies would be voting as a block in the first ballot. B.C. and Ontario are the two provinces with the most First Nation communities and the most possible votes.
Six Nations Chief Ava Hill, whose community sits in Ontario, said she was voting for Picard after discussing the choices with her council.
“He has integrity, he takes a stand,” said Hill. “It’s a question of who I can trust the most, and it’s him.”
Mattagami First Nation Chief Walter Naveau, whose community is also in Ontario, said he was backing Bellegarde.
“I believe he demonstrates through the years that he has strong leadership capacity and he has the ability to inspire a vision across the nations of Canada,” said Naveau.
British Columbia chiefs and proxies also seem to be pulled between the Picard and Bellegarde camps.
Clint Tuttle, proxy for Malahat Indian Band, said he was being directed to vote for Picard.
“He is the one that will stick to his guns, he is not afraid to voice his opinion,” said Tuttle. “And like a couple of others from B.C. said, we don’t always agree with him, but he won’t back down.”
Ed Hall, a proxy for Kwikwetlem First Nation, said he was being directed to vote for Bellegarde.
“That was the feedback that the chief got from a council member after he got back from the BC AFN,” said Hall.
Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Wallace Fox wouldn’t say who he voted for, but hoped the next national chief respected the will of the treaty holders.
“(Prime Minister Stephen) Harper only meets with the national chief,” said Fox, whose Cree nation is in Saskatchewan. “We are the treaty holders, not the AFN, and our people need to respect that, whoever gets elected.”
There were about 432 registered chiefs and proxies at last count. Registration for voting ended at 11 a.m. local time.
First ballot voting closes at 12 p.m. local time.