Arm-twisting and intrigue in the final hours before First Nations vote - InfoNews

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Arm-twisting and intrigue in the final hours before First Nations vote

A group of youth from Sixth First Nations in Manitoulin Island perform the grass, fancy and jingle dances in Toronto Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michelle Siu
July 18, 2012 - 4:00 AM

TORONTO - She has been next to invisible in the public banter about who should be the next leader of the Assembly of First Nations, but suddenly her name and her credentials keep coming up.

In the arm-twisting, alliance-building and intrigue that are dominating the last few hours of First Nations’ campaign for the next national chief, Diane Kelly has gained at least some momentum.

Kelly is an Ojibway lawyer, a former grand chief of Treaty 3 — a large area straddling northern Ontario and Manitoba — and she takes a no-nonsense approach to increasing First Nations’ say over natural resources.

“There are times when we have to take legal action. We have to draw that line in the sand and stand up and take action,” Kelly told hundreds of chiefs and delegates in Toronto on Tuesday, where they gathered for the annual general assembly of the AFN.

First Nations, she said, need to stop fretting about asserting their independence, and “just do it.”

She said she has a plan to improve the way resource revenues are shared with First Nations, and has given herself 150 days to implement it, if elected.

Chiefs start casting their ballots this morning, with results of the first round expected by about noon.

Incumbent Shawn Atleo is widely believed to be out in front, buoyed by a solid base of British Columbia chiefs. Opposition to his candidacy is divided among four women, two regional chiefs and a Manitoba band chief.

But British Columbia is a long ways from Toronto, and his camp is not sure how many of those chiefs, or their proxies, will show up in time to give Atleo the 60 per cent support he needs to declare victory.

Plus, Atleo is still dealing with the fallout of his co-operation with the Stephen Harper government over the past year. Under his helm, the AFN agreed to a joint action plan with the federal Conservatives that led to a task force report on improving education, a promise for funding and legislation, and a summit between Harper and the chiefs.

Leaders from Saskatchewan and Manitoba and parts of Ontario have spoken out against his initiatives, saying Atleo dragged First Nations into a process that was unnecessary and against their wishes.

“A lot of people question the effectiveness, if any at all, of the Crown First Nations gathering, looking at it as a photo op and nothing more,” said Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

“Nothing substantive came out of the discussion, no announcements, no plan for moving forward. Just rhetoric, really.”

Enter Kelly. Numerous chiefs from her region of northern Ontario and Manitoba say informally that they are looking at her. And they carry a large number of votes.

Still, the opposition to Atleo is splintered among many candidates, and there is no way of telling for sure if any single candidate can seriously challenge him.

All eyes are on the first ballot, to see if Atleo can claim any support beyond his B.C. base, and to see if anyone else has heft, First Nations sources say.

“We’re identifying that we’re in an environment where there’s a very aggressive implementation of Crown policies that are detrimental to us. We’re not quite certain that the AFN has been as effective as it can be,” Nepinak said. “But whether those questions about effectiveness are enough to dethrone the national chief tomorrow is question that remains to be answered.”

News from © The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

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