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Phil Fontaine re-elected as chief of Assembly of First Nations

Don't be fooled by his soft-spoken and conciliatory manner. Phil Fontaine has been a dominant force in native politics since the 1970s. The Manitoba chief who once admitted to being petrified of public speaking was one of the first to speak publicly about residential school abuse. From masterminding the death of Meech Lake to dismantling the Department of Indian Affairs in Manitoba, the tenacious leader of Canada's most powerful native group has orchestrated key deals aimed at improving the quality of life for his people.

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Phil Fontaine may have been down, but he was far from out. On July 23, 2003, Fontaine regains his leadership of the Assembly of First Nations, marking an end to the confrontational era of Matthew Coon Come. Fontaine's win is seen as vindication of his diplomatic approach. As the national chief of the AFN once again, Fontaine tells CBC Radio he will work to end poverty and improve social conditions for his people. 
. Phil Fontaine was the early front-runner in the 2003 leadership race, receiving 51.6 per cent of the 60 per cent of votes needed to win. He was named national chief after the second ballot.
. Matthew Coon Come received a mere 18.5 per cent of votes in the first round. He dropped out after the first ballot to throw his support behind second-place finisher Roberta Jamieson, the first native female lawyer in Canada and chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve near Hamilton, Ont.

. Canada's native chiefs were unhappy with Coon Come's relationship with the federal government, which they saw as a roadblock to securing better treatment. It had led to Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault dismissing the AFN, whose funding he cut in half, as "structurally incapable of working with the government." - in the Globe and Mail, July 2003

.Fontaine is currently in negotiations over Ottawa's First Nations governance legislation, which was the central issue in the 2003 AFN election. Under the proposed legislation, native bands would be required to develop a system to choose their leaders and develop clear rules on how they spend their money. It would also give off-reserve natives voting rights in electing band councillors as well as bring First Nations under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

. In 1996, Fontaine received the national Aboriginal Achievement Award for community service.
. In 2000, Fontaine was given an honourary doctorate of laws from the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.
. Fontaine was made a Knights Scholar and visiting professor at the University of Manitoba in 2001.

. Most recently, Fontaine was inducted into the Order of Manitoba in November 2003.
. Fontaine was re-elected as teh national chief of the AFN in July 2006 with almost 76 per cent of the vote, defeating Bill Wilson of British Columbia
Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: July 23, 2003
Guest(s): Phil Fontaine
Host: Mary Ambrose, Kelly Ryan
Duration: 7:18

Last updated: December 12, 2014

Page consulted on December 12, 2014

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