I’ve never been to an election for National Chief before and didn’t know quite what to expect. On the outside it looked like any other conference I had ever been to; people going in and out, smokers hanging around the entrance puffing away, groups of people talking in hushed tones and you know a deal is being made.
Immediately apparent are the Matthew Coon Come posters. The press kits came with buttons and pens reading Matthew Coon Come for National Chief. Somehow Neil managed to get hold of a coveted Coon Come t-shirt. The Coon Come banners were hung by the stage with care. That boy was prepared Fontaine, who had his name on a neck thingy to hang your conference ID on.
Before the open forum, the room resounded with chants of “Coon Come, Coon Come.” It was deafening. The circus had begun in earnest.
Marilyn Buffalo’s speech garnered applause but Coon Come’s speech had people cheering even before a sentence was finished. Fontaine seemed on the defensive after that, but rallied. The best easy-listening show was Martin’s. He started off with a song. He also promised that if elected he would hire the other three candidates, to laughter. Then at the end Martin said, “Well I’ve got three minutes left so I think I’ll do another song just because I want to!” He did.
One attack on Coon Come didn’t deal with the issues but religion. “A Bible-thumper,” I overheard. Coon Come shrugged off the attacks until before the second ballot. Coon Come was making the rounds drumming up support. When he came to the Ontario tent a delegate verbally attacked him asking how he could support traditional ways when he was a Pentecostal. Coon Come replied, “I will not deny my faith for your votes.” He went on to say there are hundreds of different First Nations in Canada, all with different traditions, ceremonies and spirituality. He said each had to find their own spirituality and he would defend everyone’s right to search for their own spirituality.
Later when Fontaine conceded the election and came over to Coon Come, there was cheering and tears in many eyes. The bread and circuses had ended and the work was ready to begin.