In my opinion, the so called “leadership debate” on APTN was pretty ho-hum. No fire, no passion, no “OMG, did they really say that” moments. The “debate” was not a real debate, it was a question and answer period. I think this could have been a lot more interesting if the candidates were able to engage in debate about the issues. Or possibly if other questions were asked that would bring out the passion and commitment of these 6 people who are running for the office of National Chief.
REFLECTIONS ON THE APTN NATIONAL CHIEF DEBATE
Only Pam Palmater took a few indirect shots at Shawn. She mentioned that AFN can no longer appease the Federal government, that decisions, action and plans must come from the Chiefs and not one person. Terry Nelson discounted Shawn’s direction with the federal government saying neither courts, the United Nations, or Canadian law is the way to go. Other than that, there were no skirmishes on air.
Two candidates did not show up, Ellen Gabriel was in Geneva and George Stanley sent his regrets. Choices made by them which will reflect in the polls.
Many of the candidates did not answer the questions asked. Most importantly, the question of why should you vote for me for National Chief was asked and only two candidates addressed this head on-Diane Kelly and Bill Erasmus. Shawn Atleo went on and on about following the path of the ancestors and some major landmark accomplishments in war, the Declaration, Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples but nothing about AFN’s accomplishments. He did not say, as your National Chief in the past 3 years I have been able to do ABC and I will continue to accomplish XYZ for you. If he believed in what he has done, this should have been his reply. The fact that Shawn was reading from notes was surprising as well, for someone who eats, sleeps and breathes these issues shouldn’t have to read from prepared text. That Shawn was in the studio in Ottawa I think put him at a disadvantage as we were viewing him on TV through another TV. Not as effective as being in person in the studio with the other candidates. He seemed very confident that he will win again.
Diane Kelly had some good solid answers and advocated for action-“just do it” was her theme. She said it is up to First Nations to negotiate their way out of the Indian Act, not up to AFN to do it for them, but must support them. She gave a good closing statement on what her skills that she would bring to the table and her willingness to get started. While Diane made some good points and was very well spoken, I found her unexpressive and without feeling.
Terry Nelson was well spoken and had personality. He said he had solutions to the housing crisis and since Harper was scared of him he could accomplish things with him. His ideas of speaking to the Iranian Parliament and that the US was the only power to deal with were a bit hard to swallow and were rather “out there” ideas. He did not elaborate why that would help First Nations in Canada that would put his ideas into context.
Pam Palmater seemed abrasive in her answers. She spoke really fast and was repetitive in her messaging. She called the Conservative government a “bully” several times and said First Nations needed to throw down the gauntlet with them. Pam would be like Matthew Coon Come whose fiery style and opposition to the government became regressive to the AFN. She made some good points like the direction to dismantle the Indian Act must come from the chiefs-another shot at Shawn Atleo who came out with his 5 year plan to get rid of the Indian Act. Certainly getting out of the Indian Act has been desired for many years but no Chiefs have set a time limit on it.
Bill Erasmus was pretty solid and answered the questions. His idea to put Hereditary Chiefs and Tribal chiefs as voting delegates is an important one. Being more inclusive of First Nations governments is important and may make AFN more relevant in the communities. He was also inclusive of the BC situation with regard to treaties. He said AFN has to help those negotiating treaties and recommended the inclusion of the Governor General to make them a government-to-government negotiation. His knowledge of treaties was easy to recognize.
Joan Jack had one main theme. “We need to educate the people in our communities about the Indian Act and educate the general public about our issues.” Also that the National Chief needs to be in the communities more and experience what our people live with. Good points but there was not a lot of other substantive ideas that she put out there during the debate. I liked the fact that she brought up that the National Chief has a sacred trust to the Chiefs to carry out their mandate.
Interesting evening with the candidates. Not sure one candidate shone more than the other. It explored their public persona and gave you an idea of their thinking. It is any one’s guess which way the election will go.
I have been hearing that social media is shaping this election as never before. I wonder what this is based on. Yes, all candidates are using Facebook and Twitter, and other technical tools but I wonder how many Chiefs have Facebook and Twitter. There are 633 chiefs who can vote, some communities do not have internet or satellite connection for smart phones so how are they using social media? People say this election is using social media for international connections, but they have no power to vote. If this was a general election of all registered members of First Nations, this would ring more true to me but right now, I need to know what the chiefs are thinking and if they are relying on social media to make their decisions.
With four days to go before the election these candidates must use whatever skills and mechanisms they have to win the Office of National Chief. Stay tuned!