Three people have officially thrown their names into contention for the Assembly of First Nations’ National Chief slot vacated by Shawn A-in-chut Atleo last May.
Perry Bellegarde, chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN); Leon Jourdain, former Treaty 3 grand chief and previous chief of Lac La Croix First Nation in northwestern Ontario, and Ghislain Picard, who has been serving in Atleo’s stead since being named to the interim in July, were all declared official candidates in a November 5 AFN media release.
The race does not include musician, educator and journalist Wab Kinew, who at one point had suggested he might run.
Neither does it contain attorney and Ryerson University professor Pam Palmater, who came in a close second during the last election in 2012, heralding a hoped-for ascension of women in the AFN’s ranks.
Also not on the ballot is former Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister, who did not garner the necessary support to fulfill the criteria for candidacy, APTN reported. Aspiring candidates must be endorsed by at least 15 First Nation chiefs—the eligible electors—in order to be eligible to run, according to the AFN.
In statements, two of the candidates have addressed the question of whether the AFN is even relevant to today’s Indigenous Peoples.
Bellegarde acknowledged that the AFN “is at a pivotal point in its history,” he said in a statement announcing his candidacy.
"I am committed to being a catalyst for positive change for First Nations across Canada,” he said. “I want to see aboriginal rights and title and our treaty rights recognized, honored and implemented.”
Atleo resigned following fallout over the controversial First Nations Education Act, just a year and a half into his second term. He had drawn fire for, among other things, appearing to get too close to the Canadian government when it came time to unveil the federal education legislation.
Picard, who has long spoken of the necessity of implementing institutional agreements on the ground, took an opposite tack.
"For the lack of a better term, we have one common enemy: the Canadian government—in the sense that we have to find ways to engage the present and future governments, but not solely on their conditions,” he told CBC News upon announcing his candidacy in September. “We have agreed that in order for the process to move forward, the government of Canada has to withdraw the bill as it stands today and reengage in a way that is acceptable to First Nations while representing the diversity across the country.”
The group’s new leader will be elected on December 10, the first day of a Special Chiefs Assembly in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The AFN counts 639 First Nation communities across Canada among its members, though elected First Nations chiefs or their proxies are the only ones eligible to cast a vote, according to CBC News.
“Due to extraordinary circumstances, Chiefs-in-Assembly set the upcoming term of office for the National Chief to three and half-years,” the AFN said.