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AFN (leadership) race heats up.

Well, it looks like the chiefs of Canada's First Nations have themselves a horse race in this month's Assembly of First Nations election for national chief. With the number of heavy-hitters vying for the privilege of advancing the causes of reserve Indians across the country, incumbent Ovide Mercredi will again have his work cut out for him to be elected.

Mercredi struggled in 1994 to get the required percentage of votes to claim his second three-year term as national chief. All that Mercredi needed back then was 60 per cent of the vote, and while he had 54 per cent support after the first ballot, it took another two ballots and a lot of backroom finagling to push that support to 60.8 per cent.

Of course, back then, Mercredi had the support of a hundred or so chiefs from British Columbia. This support will be missing this year if what challenger Wendy Grant-John says is true. In an interview in Windspeaker last month, Grant-John claimed she had the "unanimous endorsement" of the chiefs of British Columbia's First Nations Summit. If elected she would be the AFN's first woman national chief, and the dynamics would prove interesting now that Canada has appointed its first woman minister of Indian Affairs.

Joe Dion may be a spoiler, however. Though he is considered an Alberta candidate, he makes his home and operates a business out of British Columbia. He might split that province's vote, plus encourage Alberta chiefs to take an interest in the AFN they all but abandoned years ago.

It may also leave room for another candidate to come up the middle. That candidate could be Manitoba Grand Chief Phil Fontaine who was missing from the 1994 race for national chief after two failed attempts at the post. Fontaine said he declined to run then because of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs' involvement in the process to dismantle Indian Affairs in the province. Fontaine even sounded the death knell for the AFN that year. He said First Nations would have to rethink the need for the AFN if self government is achieved.

The other contender, though by press time he hadn't declared his candidacy, is Ontario's Larry Sault. Ontario has the largest block of votes, but Windspeaker wonders if Sault can pull the Ontario chiefs support. We suspect not, though to this date there are no other eastern candidates. Where will the all-important support from Ontario and Quebec go? We'll have to wait until July 30 to find out.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Lockyer, Debora
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Jul 1, 1997
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