By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 8, 2023.
After two days, and six rounds of voting, the Assembly of First Nations has elected its newest national Chief. With 50.8 per cent support, Cindy Woodhouse of Pinaymootang First Nation in Manitoba will now serve in the role.
“Our people are waiting for us to get to work, and our people are waiting for us to be unified,” Woodhouse said during an online press conference in Ottawa.
“To Canada, and to Canadians, we need your support. You have to work with First Nations people in a good way. We are here in a good way,” Woodhouse proclaimed in her first address as National Chief.
“But at the same time, there’s a point where, if you don’t listen to our people, if you don’t listen to our chiefs, you don’t answer them, then there’s problems. And so, to Canada: We’re coming for you.”
While the assembly charter indicates that the winning candidate must acquire 60 per cent of votes, runner up David Pratt, vice chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations from Muscowpetung First Nation in Saskatchewan, conceded to Woodhouse on Thursday, after securing just 39.3 per cent support late Wednesday night following the sixth ballot.
The voting began on Dec. 6 at the Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa with six candidates running and a voter turnout of 96.3 per cent (444 votes cast), by the fourth round only Pratt and Woodhouse remained on the ballot. The final round of voting saw 415 out of 461 eligible voters participate (90 per cent) in the late hours of Wednesday night. A seventh round was set to occur at 11am EST but did not occur due to Pratt’s concession.
“The decision to concede is never an easy decision,” Pratt said when addressing the assembly on Thursday morning.
“I know a lot of our chiefs wanted me to keep going and pushing the fight, but I knew it wasn’t doing our convention any good to prolong it. When we’re facing a housing crisis. When we’re facing a suicide, opioid, crystal meth epidemic in this country. When the jails continue to be filled with our people from one side of this country to the other. When our lands and our resources continue to be stolen by industry working side by side with government, the issues are too important for us to hold back the next national chief for taking over.”
Acknowledging Woodhouse’s new leadership role, Pratt stated, “We leave here united we leave here behind our national chief. We’re back and the future belongs to First Nations people.” Before promising to “keep being a thorn in Canada’s side,” and assuring Chief Woodhouse that she has his “110 per cent support.” He asked that all negativity be laid aside declaring that her success is the success of everyone involved. “Let’s come together and be the powerful, united AFN that we are and will be.”
Woodhouse committed to spending her first 100 days on the phone, advocating for housing, economic development, and safe communities for First Nations people. “There’s a federal budget coming up in March,” she said. “Canada, you cannot forget First Nations. You take our money from our land, you have to make sure you work with us to get that out the door to our communities.”
Woodhouse is the great-great granddaughter of Chief Richard Woodhouse who signed Treaty 2 in August of 1871. Prior to her role as National Chief, she was elected as the Regional Chief, representing Manitoba in the Assembly of First Nations.
As Regional Chief, Woodhouse was instrumental in negotiations on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations, that resulted in the $40 billion settlement of combined class action lawsuits brought against Canada for the discrimination of children in the welfare system and the denial of federal services for children.
The Assembly of First Nations aims to advocate for the quality of life and rights of First Nations peoples with governments, the general public, and businesses.