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Erasumas in victory speech.
Saskatchewan's David Ahenakew failed to retain his chieftainship in the Assembly of First Nations held in Vancouver, July 30. He lost by a narrow margin, 274-231, in the second ballot to Georges Erasmus of the Northwest Territories.
Erasmus, 36, past president of the Dene Nation (1976-1983) called for unity among all aboriginal people, status and non-status Indian, Metis and Inuit. He saw his win as an acceptance of that joint responsibility.
"One of the first things I want to do is to talk to those people that did not vote for me and make it very clear that this organization will represent them as fairly as anyone else. All regions can expect that this organization will defend their rights, whether you come from an area that has treaties or an area that doesn't, whether you want your treaty rights or your title or your aboriginal title to be defended. We will be united on those things." he told the 506 delegates that attended the meeting.
Ahenakew arrived and warned delegates to continue the work to adhere to the principles and rights that they hold sacred. He added that the political interference of the Conservative governments of this country were ruthless and actively try to weaken our nationhood.
He also urged defiance of Bill C-31 so that Indian people can retain their cultural heritage. First Nations have sovereignty over their citizenship, he said.
There were three other candidates for the national leadership. Simon Lucas, Chief of the Hesquait tribe of B.C. determined the direction of the association by pledging his 69 votes to Erasmus.
Graydon Nicholas, President of the Union of New Brunswick Indians, a late entry, finished fourth with 44 votes. Ernie Daniels of the Ojibway Nation in Manitoba received 10 votes. Daniels, "wanted a recount." The elections were originally scheduled for Wednesday, July 31. However, the Ontario delegation made a motion which was passed to move the elections to Tuesday.
The general assembly did not end in unity. Immediately following the election and throughout the next morning about 100 chiefs were meeting elsewhere to discuss Ahenakew's platform of protection of inherent rights and title. There was representation from all provinces, with the exception of Quebec. Further meetings were planned to discuss their future and prepare for the September meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada.
Speakers during the candidates' forum:
left-right, David Ahenakew, Ernie Daniels
and Graydon Nicholas.
Georges Erasmus being sworn in as
the new National Chief of AFN.
Meanwhile, Erasmus secured the financial records of Ahenakew's administration in Ottawa and launched a spending probe especially those pertaining to the last four months. Locks have been changed and staff from Ahenakew's administration will be fired unless they can negotiate a deal with the new leader.
The investigation into Ahenakew's administration will determine how the AFN defecit of $851,ooo was accrued when there was a surplus of $312,000 the year before. However, Erasmus estimated the total defecit may be as high as $3 million. He proposed a full disclosure of the outcome and will seek federal aid to deal with it.
Only half of the assembly met on the final day. Failing to reach a quorum, resolutions were passed by consensus.
Dave Ahenakew and George; Erasmus both have considerable experience in leadership roles. David has served as an FSIN Chief and ha; received numerous awards and commemorations for public service Georges was a President of the Dene Nation for the past seven years coming to the forefront when a pipeline and development project was proposed for the North's MacKenzie Valley, Both will need all their skills to pursue their conflicting goals.