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Hundreds of chiefs cast vote for national chief

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first_img(Chiefs cast ballots in Toronto for next national chief of Assembly of First Nations APTN/Photo)By Jorge Barrera and Tim FontaineAPTN National NewsTORONTO–Hundreds of First Nations chiefs began voting Wednesday morning for one of eight candidates vying to lead the country’s most influential organization for the next three years.The race for national chief of the Assembly of First Nations has featured the largest fields in its history, including four women who have ignited widespread support among the grassroots.It’s only the chiefs, however, who are allowed to cast their ballots for the candidates which include Ellen Gabriel, a Mohawk from Kanesatake, who rose to prominence during the Oka crisis, Joan Jack, an Ojibway lawyer from the Berens River First Nation and former Treaty 3 grand chief Diane Kelly, a lawyer from Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation, and Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer and professor at Ryerson University.The field also includes incumbent National Chief Shawn Atleo, George Stanley, Alberta AFN regional chief from the Cree First Nation of Frog Lake, Bill Erasmus, Dene Nation chief from the Northwest Territories and Terrance Nelson, the five-time former chief of Roseau River.According to the AFN, 515 chiefs and proxies (individuals casting votes for an absent chief) were registered to attend the Toronto gathering where the voting is being held.Voting began at about 9 a.m. and the results of the first ballot are expected after 12 p.m.Serpent River First Nation Chief Isadore Day said he was voting according to the will of the majority of his community which he said backed Palmater. Day, whose community is in Ontario, said he polled his residents using Twitter, Facebook, email and over the telephone.“Our members have seen (Palmater) as outspoken against what isn’t right,” said Day, in a statement. “They have not seen that level of resistance and outcry (from incumbent national chief Shawn Atleo).”Scia’new First Nation Chief Henry Chipps said, while standing in line waiting to vote, that he was backing Atleo who he felt was the best candidate up to the job. Chipps’ community is based in British Columbia.Tyendinaga Mohawk Chief Donald Maracle said he would be voting for Gabriel in the first ballot and Atleo in the second ballot.  Maracle, whose community is in Ontario, said he was pleased with the First Nations-Crown gathering held in Ottawa this past January that saw chiefs meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper.“I think it was a beginning. Hopefully there will be more of those,” said Maracle.Beausoleil First Nation Chief Roland Monague says he sees no consensus among Ontario leaders, but he’s decided to back Atleo.“I want someone who has already been to these communities and who knows our issues,” he said. “Better to go with someone who has already been there than to start all over again.”Other chiefs, however, were keeping their choices close to their chests.Chief Ray Sydney, from Kwanlin Dun First Nation in the Yukon, said he had two candidates in mind, but he wouldn’t reveal who they were. Sydney said he was looking for “integrity” in the candidates.Timiskaming Chief Terence McBride said he would decide who to vote for once he got into the voting booth.“They are all good candidates. They have a lot to bring to the table I suppose,” said McBride. “I guess the best one is going to win.”Atleo is expected to emerge in the lead following the first round of balloting, according to chiefs and observers surveyed by APTN National News. Opinions, however, vary wildly on the order of the rest of the field.Given that Atleo appears to have a lock on the large British Columbia voting block which could represent up to about 200 votes, some Ontario chiefs have spotted an opportunity to play kingmaker.Treaty 3 and Treaty 9 northern Ontario chiefs are considering backing Kelly as a block and holding their position on the premise that Atleo will need their support to take him over the top and strike a deal with them.Treaty 3 chiefs can bring about 28 votes to the table and Treaty 9 represents about 49 votes.Some northern Manitoba chiefs will also be voting strategically, supporting one candidate in the first round of voting and incumbent Shawn Atleo in any subsequent ballots.jbarrera@aptn.catfontaine@aptn.calast_img read more