By Mervin Brass

(Winnipeg, MB)  The candidates seeking the job as Chief of the Assembly of First Nations tried to differentiate their leadership styles when it comes time to dealing with the Harper government.

The three candidates spoke in front of a full house of Chiefs, proxies and observers attending the AFN election in Winnipeg.

AFN acting national Chief Ghislain Picard was the first to speak, welcoming the audience to the biggest reserve in Canada – Winnipeg.

He then went on to quote First Nation musician and songwriter Robbie Robertson.

“Being born an Aboriginal an Canada is being born to fail,” says Picard.  “This government and its policies toward our people have been a total failure.”

Picard adds that elected or not, he will urge the Special Chief’s Assembly to look at the possibility of holding their own inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.

“I’ve done some research and it’s possible,” says Picard responding to questions from the floor.

AFN debate Jourdain

AFN Chief candidate Leon Joudain speaking with an advisor before his speech at the AFN Assembly in Winnipeg.

Leon Jourdain, the candidate from Treaty 3, followed Picard and started to gather some steam during his speech when he began to point out Prime Minister Harper’s misgivings.

“Tell Mr. Harper to go take a hike, he is absolutely useless to the Indigenous people of this country,” says Jourdain to a loud round of applause. “If we continue letting the Indian Agent in Ottawa dictate what is best for us, then there will be no future.”

Jourdain promises to rebuild the AFN to be a voice of the people on the ground.

Perry Bellegarde, FSIN Chief, gave the same speech he’s made many, many times before.

He spoke about how First Nation people are 63 on the United Nations standard of living compared to the rest of Canada, who are number three.

AFN debate Bellegarde

FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde meeting with voters following his speech at the AFN Assembly in Winnipeg.

He stressed unity, spoke out on the missing and murdered Indigenous women issue, pointed out cultural genocide as a result of the residential school system and called for a revitalization of endangered First Nation languages.

“When you put your languages and ceremonies together,” says Bellegarde. “You’re going to be strong.”

Throughout his speech Bellegarde received louder applauses than the other candidates.

An official with the AFN says there are 370 Chiefs and proxies registered to vote at this point.

Voter registration closes at 11 a.m. on Wednesday an hour before the polls close.

Results of the first ballot will be released at 1 p.m.






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