By Lloyd Dolha
Former AFN national chief Phil Fontaine regained his leadership of Canada’s foremost aboriginal organization on Wednesday, July 16, ending three years of confrontation with the federal government under the reign of Matthew Coon Come.
Fontaine, who lost to Coon Come three years ago, won in a run-off against Six Nations Chief Roberta Jamieson, the first aboriginal woman to offer a serious candidacy for the top post of the AFN.
Coon Come was forced to drop out after the first ballot at the AFN’s convention in Edmonton after receiving a humiliating 18.5 per cent of the vote and threw his support behind Chief Jamieson.
Fontaine won the leadership on the second ballot with 60.9 per cent of the 557 attending chiefs support, compared to Jamieson’s 39.1 per cent support of the voting chiefs.
The winner is required to obtain 60 per cent of the voting chiefs to represent the interests of Canada’s 633 First Nations both domestically and internationally.
Chief Jamieson was the first to address the 1500 delegates, thanking her supporters and conceding defeat.
“Your choice today is very clear and it was for a different vision and a different direction than the one I offered,” said Jamieson.
Fontaine was the clear frontrunner, obtaining 51.6 per cent of the vote on the first ballot.
A new direction
All three of the candidates spoke out against the INAC-driven First Nations Governance Act (FNGA), and aboriginal organizations across the nation have denounced the proposed changes to the archaic Indian Act as lacking adequate consultation, and an infringement on their constitutionally protected rights.
Stressing his diplomatic skills, Fontaine said he looks forward to working with the new prime Minister, widely expected to be former Finance Minister Paul Martin in the November leadership race, but warned that Ottawa should no longer expect to make decisions without First Nations at the negotiating table.
“To the governments of Canada I say to you, sometimes we will be at each others throats, sometimes we will be pulling in the same direction, but we will always be there. I say to the governments of Canada we’re back,” said Fontaine.
Martin has said that he will not implement the controversial FNGA legislation without further consultation with First Nations.
In a statement released the following day, Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault, offered his congratulations to Fontaine, noting that the chiefs of Canada have “made a clear choice for a new direction.”
“I look forward to working with the National Chief Fontaine, the AFN executive and all AFN leaders to improve the quality of life for First Nations,” said the minister in a prepared statement.