The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) will be holding an election for National Chief on July 16, 2003, at the Shaw conference centre in Edmonton, Alberta.

At press time the candidates are Roberta Jamieson, from the Mohawk Nation of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Ontario, former National Chief Phil Fontaine from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, and the incumbent, current National Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, who hails from Mistissini.

So how does this all work?

Well, the AFN is the national representative organization of the First Nations in Canada. The AFN’s Charter states that the winner of the election shall be the first person that gains a majority of 60% of the votes. There are 633 First Nations communities in Canada that are recognized as members of the Assembly of First Nations.

The Chiefs meet annually to set national policy and direction through resolution. The National Chief is elected every three years by the Chiefs-in-Assembly.

Naysayers believe that the position of National Chief is a farce, and that the person elected doesn’t hold much power.

Not so, says Coon Come. The National Chief represents much more to the people, and more importantly represents another voice for the people when dealing with the Canadian government.

The more opposition the government hears from native people against such racist legislations as the First Nations Governance act, the more they’ll be forced to listen to Aboriginal concerns.

If re-elected, Coon Come hopes to continue the fight against outside governments dictating what can and cannot be done on Native territory.

Coon Come has many years of experience in politics, having served as Chief of Mistissini, and Grand Chief of the Cree grand council. He was elected in 2000 as National Chief.

He’s facing competition.

Jamieson, looking to become the first woman to hold the title as National Chief, says that she is the one to lead the AFN into the future.

Her predecessors have done nothing to address certain issues, and now it’s catching up to Native people.

The First Nations governance act, for example would never have been brought to the table if Jamieson was leader. A more assertive leadership is what’s really needed along with a fresh outlook on the pertinent issues affecting all Native people.

Jamieson is used to ‘firsts’. In 1976 she graduated from the University of Western Ontario School of Law, and in the process became the first Aboriginal woman to do so.

The other candidate, former National Chief Phil Fontaine could not be reached for comment on his positions and promises.

Coon Come though has promised to try to make the position of National Grand Chief a position voted upon by all the Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, not just the chiefs. It didn’t happen this year but part of the problem is deciding who will vote.

Let us hope that the current Chiefs-in-Assembly make the right choices for a better future for all Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.