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New National Chief Calls for National Unity

Cindy Woodhouse has been elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).  

The AFN is a “national advocacy organization that works to advance the collective aspirations of First Nations individuals and communities across Canada on matters of national or international nature and concern,” according to the AFN website.

Through 6 rounds of voting on Wednesday, her strongest challenger was David Pratt, who conceded the election to Woodhouse. After Woodhouse was declared the victor, the two joined hands to signify the unity of First Nations across the country. 

“You leave here with one word from me: We leave here united. We leave here behind our national chief. We’re back, and the future belongs to First Nations,” Pratt said. 

 Voting was postponed to Thursday as the venue was about to close for the night after 15 hours and six rounds of voting. The required support to declare a victor is 60 per cent, and Woodhouse had yet to reach that point before midnight. This led to a seventh ballot to take place Thursday morning. However, the seventh vote never took place as Pratt and Woodhouse reached an agreement with interim National Chief Joanna Bernard.  

Ultimately, Pratt, who has worked as a vice-chief with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, conceded after the two came to an agreement which included promised collaboration between Pratt and Woodhouse on issues pertaining to child welfare. Pratt was sure to mention that Woodhouse has his full support.  

“I knew it wasn’t doing our convention any good to prolong [the election] when we’re facing a housing crisis, when we’re facing a suicide, opioid, crystal meth epidemic in this country,” Pratt said in his concession speech. “The jails continue to be filled with our people from one end of this country to another. Our lands and resources continue to be stolen by industry working side by side with government – the issues are too important to hold back the next National Chief from taking over.” 

“I want all of our chiefs and all of Canada to leave here with one blurb from me. We leave here united. We leave here behind our National Chief. We’re back, and the future belongs to First Nations people.” 

The new National Chief stated that she hopes for greater communication between chiefs and a greater push for lobbying in Ottawa to ensure First Nations needs are met and included in the federal budget. Throughout her career, Woodhouse has contacted federal politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to discuss investment in infrastructure and related topics for First Nation communities. 

“I know we have some charter things that we have to change. We’ll do that together. In my first 100 days, I committed to you that I’d be on the phone. I’ll be on the phone this afternoon because our people need housing. Our people need economic development, and we need policing and justice for our communities for safe communities.” 

Woodhouse has previously worked as the lead negotiator for the AFN during talks with the federal government to land a deal for on-reserve First Nations children who do not receive adequate medical care, nor do they have access to such care. 

After the first agreement was struck down, a second round of negotiations landed a $23 billion agreement to aid children and families affected by discrimination in the child welfare system. An additional $20 billion was allocated in the same deal to restructure the system, which was ruled to be discriminatory. 

Moving forward, Woodhouse seeks unity among Chiefs in Canada after the divisions created by her predecessor, RoseAnne Archibald. 

“We have a lot of work to do. I want to thank the chiefs who came before me. All of my chiefs are here, and many of them have left, the late Chief Francis Flett, Perry Bellegarde, our former national chief, whom I travelled with for six years from coast to coast to coast, and for the past three years, I’ve been working with Manitoba Chiefs.” 

Woodhouse is the former regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Manitoba from Pinaymootang First Nation, Manitoba. Some Chiefs in the assembly say the biggest task for Woodhouse is creating unity in the fractured National Assembly to combat inequities for First Nations communities. Woodhouse has stated she believes cooperation among Chiefs and the federal government is key.  

“I’m coming in here as a fresh start to try and say: let’s work through some of these issues together.” 

The major issues Woodhouse will address include policing, child welfare, access to clean water, Metis self-government and the current carbon pricing system. Woodhouse has promised to prioritize issues chiefs across the country bring forward. 

“First Nations from coast to coast to coast have to be unified,” she said. “We need to make sure we’re working together for progress. When you’re in an election like this, you spend days together, and you become family,” Woodhouse said of her fellow candidates. “David [Pratt] and I had a long discussion last night and a long discussion this morning… and we came together in a good way because we have to work for you. This isn’t about us.” 

In her acceptance speech, Woodhouse thanked former national chief RoseAnne Archibald for breaking the glass ceiling for female leaders in the assembly. While Woodhouse opposed Archibald at a meeting in June, she acknowledged her elected predecessor in her acceptance speech. 

Archibald, a controversial figure among the AFN after her actions led to impeachment in June, was the first woman to hold the title of National Chief in 50 years. Of the 231 votes cast around her impeachment, 71 per cent voted in favour of her removal as National Chief. 

The troubles for Archibald took flight in June 2022 after four of her senior staffers filed misconduct complaints against her. A fifth complaint was filed soon after, and the AFN’s regional chiefs launched an external investigation into her workplace conduct, during which she was suspended. 

Among the complaints against her were accusations of harassment, breaching rules of confidentiality, and retaliation against internal complainants, which explicitly violated policy. Many chiefs called the situation an embarrassment for the AFN. The vote for a new National Chief was scheduled immediately after the impeachment. 

The impeachment divided many chiefs across Canada, which Woodhouse said she would actively work to mend. 

Six candidates were in the race to replace Archibald as National Chief, and contenders were eliminated at each level of voting. Four hundred sixty-one electors were registered to cast their vote for the next National Chief. 

“I am honoured that the Chiefs-in-Assembly has placed their trust in me to lead the Assembly of First Nations, and I want to thank my fellow candidates who put their names forward,” Woodhouse said in her acceptance speech. “My commitment to them is to advocate on behalf of all our communities and to improve life for all First Nations. That advocacy starts with accountability, transparency and dialogue. I look forward to working alongside the AFN Executive Committee on advancing our priorities in each region. There is much work to do, and I am eager to get started on behalf of all our people.” 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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