Mike Smith is the Yukon’s new regional chief for the national Assembly of First Nations.
The job marks a return for the aboriginal political veteran.
After nearly four decades in politics, Smith virtually disappeared when he finished his third term as chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation in March 2011.
He didn’t seek re-election.
But at the end of May, Smith challenged incumbent Eric Morris for the job of the national assembly’s Yukon representative.
With 33 votes, Smith took the position from the former Teslin Tlingit Council chief, who garnered 20 ballots on June 28, during the Council of Yukon First Nations general assembly, held in Burwash Landing.
The regional chief provides a voice for Yukon First Nations and their citizens to the organization’s national assembly.
National Chief Shawn Atleo is looking to defend his position by seeking a second term.
While the former regional chief for B.C. and hereditary chief of the Ahousaht First Nation from Vancouver Island has been able to acquire nearly movie-star status throughout his term, he faces some tough competition by seven other candidates.
Bill Erasmus, who has led the Dene Nation since 1987 and is the current regional chief for the N.W.T., represents the only northern aboriginal leader vying for the position.
The national assembly has long been criticized for focusing on Southern Canada and being out of touch with First Nations and Inuit in the North.
The national assembly grew from a plethora of earlier organizations, including the North American Indian Brotherhood, which was established in the 1940s. Because of these roots, the organization also faces criticism for its lack of female representation.
But a gender-balanced group of candidates aims to correct that reputation.
Four strong, aboriginal women leaders have put in their names against Atleo to become the assembly’s first female national chief.
Ellen Gabriel, the current president of the Quebec Native Women’s Association, is a Mohawk activist from way back, recognized as a major voice during the Oka Crisis.
Joan Jack is a Manitoba lawyer and band counsellor for the Aanishinaabe Ikwe fly-in community of the Berens River First Nation, north of Winnipeg. After her candidacy was announced, local media quoted her as saying, “Only a woman could take on Stephen Harper.”
Diane M. Kelly is an Ojibway from the Onigaming First Nation in Ontario. She was the first Anishinaabe female lawyer and grand chief of the Treaty #3 Nation.
Pamela Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer and University of Toronto professor from the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick rounds out the female candidates, and is one of the youngest, at 42. Palmater is also one of the most outspoken critics of the assembly under Atleo, criticizing it for being in the pockets of Harper and the Conservative government.
Former RCMP officer George Stanley is the current regional chief of the assembly for Alberta and is the former chief of the Cree Frog Lake First Nation. His home community has focused its efforts to natural resource development and owns its own oil and gas company.
Finally, probably the most publicized candidate is Terrance Nelson. As chief of the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation in Manitoba, Nelson has been in the public spotlight because of the large, First Nation-led opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline Project, which proposes to connect Alberta’s oilsands to tanker traffic on the Pacific coast.
Calling himself a “radical” candidate, in June Nelson stated, “The Northern Gateway Project is dead if I am elected.”
The election for the Assembly of First Nations’ national chief will be on July 18, at its annual general assembly in Toronto.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at