Perry Bellegarde Wins: Emotions run high during AFN National Chief elections

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde has been re-elected to another three-year term. Photo: Facebook.

Vincent Schilling

With a final vote count of 328 out of 522 votes, Perry Bellegarde has been re-elected as the AFN Chief

Thousands of First Nation Leaders, elders, women and First Nation’s youth gathered this week in Vancouver, B.C., for the Assembly of First Nations, or AFN, and the 39th Annual General Assembly and National Chief Election. When the announcement was made, loud cheers filled the crowd.

The election results were released Wednesday at 4:41 pm PT / 7:41 pm ET on July 25th, after incumbent National Chief Perry Bellegarde achieved the 60 percent mandated votes to win.

The initial results of the first election were Perry Bellegarde 286, Russ Diabo 40, Sheila North 106, Miles Richardson 87 & Katherine Whitecloud 19. Katherine Whitecloud was removed from the election and the second ballot began.

The results of the final and second election with a total of 522 votes was as follows: Perry Bellegarde 328, Russ Diabo 10, Sheila North 125, and Miles Richardson 87.

After the results, the candidates spoke to mixed reactions. Russell Diabo said, “you will be faced with consequences for the way that you voted,” amidst boos from the audience. Miles Richardson said, those who are casting the votes, the chiefs of this country, are never wrong.”

Sheila North said she kept her family at a distance “because this election got really heavy. My message is that we have to stay unified … we have to stay together … don’t let the government treat you like children... You have to be happy and satisfied with the results of this election.”

There were five candidates running for this year’s election amidst strong-worded and even hostile voices coming forward on social media using the hashtags #AFNElection and #AFNElection2018.

Among the candidates who were running was the incumbent AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde from Little Black Bear First Nation in Treaty 4 Territory, Russell (Russ) Diabo, a member of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake, Grand Chief Sheila North of the Bunibonibee Cree Nation, Miles G. Richardson of the Haida Nation and Katherine Whitecloud of the Mahpiya Ska Tiospaye of the Wipazoka Wakpa Oyate.

If either North or Whitecloud had been elected, it would have been the first time in history a woman would have been elected AFN National Chief.

Prior to the election results, voices on Twitter were making their stances known.

Gerald McIvor on Twitter wrote, “A vote for Bellegarde is a vote for assimilation,” along with an image of Russ Diabo with the text “Vote For Russ Diabo for AFN National Chief.”

Melanie Nagy, a verified Twitter account journalist and CTV National News BC Bureau Chief acknowledged the two women candidates. “There are two women running in this election. Katherine Whitecloud and Sheila North are both looking to become #AFN National Chief. If one of them wins it would be the first time a woman elected to the role. #AFN2018 #AFNElection”

When Gordon Peters tweeted: Perry Bellegarde did not openly reject fed(eral) recognition framework. Instead he supported it by telling FNs to do their own laws but attach to fiscal - the fiscal is attached to recognition framework -- Stephen John Ford‏, a Mohawk attorney responded, “Perry knows it's the promise of more money that gets votes from Indian Act Chiefs.”

Jenii Wabano tweeted, “#PerryBellegarde does not speak for the Omushkegowuk Nation!” Along with a lengthy attached Facebook screenshot outlining her disappointment in Bellegarde.

Angela Sterritt sung Bellegrad’s praises, “Huge round of applause when he talks about the need to advocate for Indigenous languages. He is also talking about child welfare and on-reserve discrimination (prevention not apprehension), the justice system & #MMIWG.”

In addition to the voices on social media, Native activist Clayton Thomas Muller released a tweet / statement calling for the elected AFN chief to protect lands and water in the climate where Canada is now slotted to buy the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline for 4.5 billion Canadian dollars..

“On the day of #AFN elections, the #AFNYouthCouncil releases letter calling for AFN to refocus on protecting lands & waters, supporting #Indigenous frontlines against the #TransMountain #pipeline #AFNAGA2018 #AFNElections #NoKMBuyOut #Cndpoli #BcPoli #Abpoli”

In the midst of the strong words on social media Chief Perry Bellegarde expressed an optimistic response, tweeting: “I am honoured and humbled by the strong support I have received throughout this campaign. Kinanāskomitin. Together, we will continue to work to support all First Nations in their path to well-being and self-determination. #AFNAGA2018#Cdnpoli#indigpoli

Prior to the administered Oath of Office, the AFN tweeted, “Congratulations to Perry Bellegarde on being elected AFN National Chief.”