Theresa Spence is putting new revenue-sharing deals with the federal and provincial governments, as well as mining companies, on the top of her agenda after being re-elected as chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Tuesday’s election.
She is hopeful that the extra money will help ease her reserve’s chronic housing shortage.
She is also counting on the expansion of a neighbouring diamond mine to generate more revenue for the band and create employment for people in Attawapiskat.
Spence, 49, fended off three contenders in the band council election for another three-year term in the remote James Bay community in northern Ontario.
All four candidates share the similar platform — to forge better relationships with the federal and provincial governments and mining companies.
Spence's integrity has been under attack since she rose to public prominence during her six-week hunger strike last winter.
Critics say she lives comfortably while many in Attawapiskat are crammed into aging houses and dirty trailers.
However Spence said being a target is just part of the job.
"As the leader, you're there to listen and just accept what they say and not take it personally," she said, "Because as long as you know the truth, you're ok."
Speech in Cree
John Edwards, 59, voted for Spence, but said the chief can work on her communication skills.
"The community members feel lost when they're not informed of all the issues," he told CBC News.
Spence and a band council full of new faces will hold their first meeting Thursday.
It took over 6 hours to count the 600 ballots cast by band members and the results were announced at 2:30 Wednesday morning. Some 200 people waited even later to hear from their newly elected chief.
Spence's first words to them were in Cree, and she mentioned the word 'trust' several times.
"It really helps, just knowing that they trust me," she explained after the speech.
Spence put on a big smile as she danced to a live band during the post-election celebration, wiping away the occasional tear.
"I was trying to relax, but boom, boom, boom, my heart was pounding," she said, as she described the moment her name was called. "It was overwhelming and I didn't expect that.... It was pretty exciting, just feeling the confidence from my people."
The band hasn't released the official elections yet, but Spence won by at least a dozen votes against her main rival Bruce Shashesh.