The term for BC Regional Chief has ended and who will fill the next term is up for grabs in a three-way race between 3 highly competent indigenous women. The candidates are incumbent Jody Wilson-Raybould, Shana Manson and Margery McRae.
Never before in the history of BCAFN has there ever been an all women race for this post. Therefore, this election for BC Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief is making history! I think that is very exciting and requires writing about. Over the years, there have been three women who have been regional Chiefs in BC: incumbent Jody Wilson-Raybould, Wendy Grant John and Ko’waintco Michel. When elections for regional chief have happened in the past, from my memory there has been usually one woman in the race, if there is even one.
On a national scale, the recent election for National Chief had 4 female contenders, Joan Jack, Ellen Gabriel, Diane Kelly and Pam Palmater. That was a clear sign times are definitely changing as there have never been 4 women candidates for National Chief. It would have meant times had changed if a woman had won, so obviously we are not at that point yet. Women who have vied for the top job include Roberta Jamieson (2003), Marilyn Buffalo (2000), Wendy Grant John (1997), Delia Opekokew (1994). Considering that AFN elections have been happening every 3 years since 1982, it is not a lot of women contenders.
There are 10 regional Chiefs that make up the executive committee of the AFN and currently there is only one regional Chief who is a woman and that is here in BC. No matter the result of this race, there will be a woman representative on the Executive Committee of the AFN.
I don’t consider myself a feminist, but I do believe in the power of woman, and the different perspectives women bring to leadership. I believe we need a balance of men and woman in our leadership. Such a balance brings an empowerment of all perspectives from our communities. When I was on the Leadership Council from 2006-2008, I know that our high level dealings with the Premier/Ministers (both provincial and federal) held a different tone when Chief Lynda Price and myself were at the table. Discussions may have been hard and pointed, but there was respect that women were present. Not only present, but had strong voices and adding varying perspectives to the issues at hand. In my career, there have been numerous meetings when I was the only female in the room, or where women leaders were clearly the minority, but I believe we brought positive outcomes to those meetings. Balance, as I said before. That is why I think this upcoming election for BCAFN regional Chief is unique and historic and signals what I hope will be transformational change.
Looking at the 3 Candidates they each have different strengths. And I thought this small grid would give people a quick glance of the highlights of each candidate:
Why is the election for BC AFN regional Chief so important? The BC regional chief position is connected to the Assembly of First Nations and its purposes are:
(a) advance the rights and interests of First Nations people in British Columbia;
(b) restore and enhance the relationship among First Nations people in British
Columbia, the Crown and people of Canada;
(c) develop and promote programs and policies for the benefit of First Nations people in British Columbia including but not limited to economic, social, education, health and cultural matters; and
(d) work in coalition with other organizations that advance the rights and interests
of indigenous people.
There are so many issues that First Nations in BC are involved in nationally right now and we need a strong, knowledgeable voice on these issues. Currently there are 7 major pieces of legislation that are in front of Parliament relating to First Nations people. These include legislation that attack the environment and fisheries, self government, matrimonial property on reserve, financial transparency, elections, safe drinking water, an Act to amend and replace the Indian Act. On top of this, Canada is in the process of ratifying the Canada China Investment Treaty which will accelerate development in First Nations territories. We need more than presentations before the Standing Committees, we need loud voices and an intense lobby in Ottawa. These pieces of legislation do not recognize or encourage the governance of First Nations but adds more bureaucracy and regulation. The question for this regional chief election is who will be able to do this as there are more issues looming on the federal front including the privatization of reserve lands.
On the provincial level there are many issues relating to heritage conservation, gaming, land use planning, the mega projects being planned and developed through many First Nations territories and the impacts of the stripping of the requirements in environmental legislation federally. Revenue sharing, shared decision making, and the New Relationship. An election in May requires planning to meet with the parties to find out what their position is on First Nations issues and elicit commitments. The current government has certainly revealed its agenda and that is to not work with First Nations in a progressive way. Things like the Musqueam assertion of their title over the Marpole site, the backing out of the s. 4 pilot project on Heritage conservation, the refusal to work with First Nations on gaming issues when all other provinces has agreements with First Nations. Every time I talk with a First Nations Chief, such as Sharleen Wiseman of Fort Nelson, I hear the frustration of a government that will not listen to their concerns and the lack of positive action. This is common across the province and this lack of engagement must stop. At a provincial level, the momentum that was once in place to achieve reconciliation has been stymied and must be reinvigorated. Again, the Chiefs need to ask, which of these three candidates can achieve these objectives and help change the political landscape.
The BC Regional Chief also is part of the Leadership Council which represents the political executives of the BCAFN, First Nations Summit and Union of BC Indian Chiefs. The three organizations signed a Leadership Accord in 2005 which committed them to a cooperative relationship to work on common issues. Through the years, the Leadership Council has been influential in working at issues that benefit First Nations. The BC Regional Chief must be able to provide leadership, direction and strategic advice and work as a team for the First Nations in BC. Who is the best person to do this?
We are at a critical juncture politically both at a national and provincial level. At the federal level, there are many attacks on First Nations inherent rights to self government and the funding cuts is another way to keep First Nations from capacity building. At the provincial level, the lack of movement on many issues needs visionary leadership.
First Nations in BC need a strong leader, a voice that will be heard by governments and third parties, and if not heard, at least one that speaks strongly on all First Nations issues and advances the interests of those First Nations. Making a choice at this election will be critical and having three strong women candidates with differing strengths will not be an easy choice. I wish all three candidates the best and hope that this election creates a debate on what the issues are and what needs to be done!
Watch for the results of this historic election on November 27th, 2012!
Bios of each candidate can be found at: http://www.bcafn.ca/files/BCAFN_SCA_AGA-Nov2012.php