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Though Wally McKay, Sachigo Lake First Nations, Ontario, Mike Mitchell, Mohawks of Akwesasne, Ontario, Delia Opekokew, Canoe Lake, Saskatchewan and Konrad Sioui, Huron-Wyandot, Quebec, were worthy contenders, there was steady support for Ovide Mercredi throughout three allots.
After fifteen hours and three rounds, Ovide Mercredi gained the 60 per cent of the votes needed to win a second term as National Chief.
Though the majority voted for Mercredi, there was some feeling among the chiefs that
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Ovide had become autocratic and out of touch with the people; that he was no longer grassroots. He conceded to the chiefs that he has made mistakes, but also learned a lot in his first term as chief. However, he felt that not all the criticism was warranted, pointing out that though he had spent much time dealing with constitutional affairs, these were issues that had to be addressed, leaving little time for local issues still close to his heart, such as housing, education and health. But, he said, he nevertheless did take the time to visit communities as often as possible to help deal with serious situations such as suicide prevention and problems over fishing rights.
On a national scale, the last three years have been an important time for First Nations and, as national chief, Mercredi said, he felt it was his job to be inclusive and make the AFN a household name in Canada so that when First Nations issues were raised, there would be public awareness and support.
The matter of an AFN $2.3 million deficit was raised from time to time throughout the election, suggesting perhaps a less than responsible approach to fiscal management. Mercredi explained that this sum includes litigation expenses amounting to $750,000. The Department of Justice and the Department of Indian Affairs doesn't give funding to First Nations to defend their rights, uses public funds to combat our rights regarding land claims, he said. Large sums also went to assist suicide-plagued Davis Inlet and support international rights issues.
Though there were some rumblings of discontent among the chiefs, there can be little dissent over Grand Chief Mercredi's mandate for the future. "The Chiefs are coming," he said, "to hold the Prime Minister of Canada and his government accountable for the promises they have made to our people in the Red book. Interestingly, many of those issues are the very ones Mercredi was thought to be neglecting. Implemented at the highest
In his election speech he said, "What motivates us to run for chief. grand chief or national chief? It's simple. It has to do with our faith in our future and belief in our people; that, through leadership, we can improve the lives of our people and increase the social and economic opportunities of our people. We have a standard of life inferior to other Canadians. We don't receive the resources we need from the Canadian government to improve, yet our people are condemned for being on welfare. They ask, what is wrong with Indian people? Why don't they help themselves?" "That's why we run for leadership - to try to reduce poverty, hardship and suicide." The reality is that the poverty is more than monetary, he said. Indian people have insufficient and resources to sustain them. They have small reserves that cannot be developed for economic purposes. Leaders have to focus on ensuring First Nations a viable economic future. And the best way to do that, he said, is to convince government that "It's time we received our land and resources to create and sustain an economy where there are wealthy individuals in every reserve of this country.
People are crippled by rules, he said. Leaders have to focus on getting more land and resources. The bottom line is that Treaties have to be honoured. The government has said it is prepared to find a way of implementing Treaties. It must do it quickly, said Mercredi, and make sure First Nations have a part in the process. And in the settlement of land negotiations, First Nations must make sure land settlement results in economic opportunities. First Nations must focus on how to use natural resources. There must be a review of the entire fishing industry. And chiefs must come together to make sure that in all negotiations, Treaty Rights are not prejudiced. Chiefs are the grass roots leaders, he said.