Romeo Saganash, MP for Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou has declared his candidacy for the leadership of the NDP. Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press

Romeo Saganash, one of the NDP's star recruits when he ran in the northern Quebec riding of Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou in the last election, has decided to join the party's leadership race.

He made the announcement in his riding Friday, before a luncheon at the Chamber of Commerce in Val d'Or.   Saganash surprised more than a few people in announcing he's decided to mount a campaign to succeed Jack Layton.

Earlier this week, a report had suggested Saganash could support Brian Topp, the party's president and the first declared candidate in the race. A Sept. 2 report from The Canadian Press quoted Saganash as saying the leadership race "wasn't a priority right now."

In an interview with CBC North in Cree, Saganash said it was a difficult decision.

"A lot of people asked who will lead the NDP party: I did think a lot and hard about it, with all the people that were asking me in person and writing to me and encouraging me to try and lead the party," he said.

"I did think about it a lot and especially knowing that it will not easy to do this work."

The aboriginal leader is well-known in Quebec, in particular for his activism on issues surrounding Quebec sovereignty, and his support for the potential partitioning of the province in the event of a referendum result in favour of Quebec's independence.

On Twitter Friday, Topp wrote, "it's great to have Romeo Saganash in the race. Shows our team's amazing strength. I'm looking forward to debate, and to our work ahead."

Saganash and Topp are the only two declared candidates so far in the race to replace Layton, who died last month after a battle with cancer.