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Phil Fontaine: Grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations

The Story


It was Fontaine's second attempt and his first win. After four ballots and 17 hours of marathon voting, Phil Fontaine emerges as the new national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. In a dramatic finish, Fontaine defeats old rival and incumbent Ovide Mercredi for the high-profile job as leader of Canada's largest native organization. By voting for Fontaine, Canada's native chiefs have chosen a pragmatic approach over Mercredi's aggressive style, reports CBC's Sasa Petricic. Standing side by side and sharing a laugh, the new AFN chief and the new minister of Indian Affairs Jane Stewart, both express desire to work towards improving the relationship between Ottawa and the AFN. 

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: July 31, 1997
Guests: Phil Fontaine, Jane Stewart
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Saša Petricic
Duration: 2:48

Did You know?


• Ovide Mercredi's non-cooperative tactics had soured his relationship with Ottawa to the point that Ron Irwin, the former minister of Indian Affairs, refused to meet with Mercredi.
• In a reversal of the strained relationship that characterized Mercredi's later years, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien personally phoned Phil Fontaine to congratulate him on his AFN win.
• Mercredi had been the national chief of the AFN from 1991 to 1997.

• Phil Fontaine's victory was the result of some last minute negotiating. Fontaine had initially promised to support chiefs from B.C.'s Interior who opposed the way land claims were being settled in the province. But in order to win the support of his main rival, B.C. native chief Wendy Grant-John, he publicly stated that he wholeheartedly supported the B.C. process, a move that upset the Interior contingent.

• Mercredi dropped out of the race after the third ballot and threw his support behind Wendy Grant-John, deepening the antagonism between Mercredi and Fontaine.


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