Sheila North Wilson humbled, elated after MKO grand chief win

"It feels good to be a part of history like this and it's credit to the chiefs and the council that elected me," Sheila North Wilson said after the win.

'I felt it was so surreal and I was so happy for our people because this isn't about me,' she says

Sheila North Wilson says she decided to run for grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak after speaking with members of her home community, the Bunibonibee Cree Nation in Oxford House, Man., during a visit in June. (Submitted by Sheila North Wilson)

Sheila North Wilson is still adjusting to the news that she is the newly-elected grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), she told CBC News that she is humbled by the win but also exhausted from the campaign.

Originally from Bunibonibee Cree Nation, North Wilson was elected Wednesday after two rounds of ballots were cast at the MKO annual general assembly that was held in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation.

North Wilson will now resign from her position as a journalist at CTV Winnipeg to lead the non-profit political advocacy organization that represents 30 Manitoba First Nations. She is the first woman to hold the position of MKO grand chief. 

"It feels good to be a part of history like this and it's credit to the chiefs and the council that elected me, and they saw a vision, they captured it and they ran with it and elected their first female grand chief and I'm very happy," North Wilson said after the win.

"I'm very humbled and honoured that I was called in the first place; to win is another thing and it's just slowly sinking in, and I couldn't be happier for our north and for our people."

74 to 58

North Wilson took the lead in the first round of ballots cast Wednesday, a round that also saw the incumbent David Harper knocked out of the race. In the second round, candidate Tyler Duncan threw his support to fellow candidate William Elvis Thomas, but it wasn't enough to overcome North Wilson.

In the second ballot, North Wilson walked away with 74 votes over Thomas who had 58.

"When I realized that I had won I just sort of went into a different, I don't know, realm because I felt it was so surreal and I was so happy for our people because this isn't about me per se, this is about our people," North Wilson said Wednesday. 

She said the win means pressing pause on her journalism career but she still intends on finishing a video documentary she has already started on missing and murdered indigenous women; something  indicative of her priorities as she takes up her new role as grand chief. 

Called to run

Previously, North Wilson was the chief communications officer for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs where she worked with Grand Chief Derek Nepinak and other First Nations leaders in Manitoba.

"I was asked to run [by] members of the community and leaders of the community and I didn't want to take the request too lightly, I've been asked before to run for different positions but I never felt ready to answer the call," she told CBC News in an interview prior to the election.

Before, her kids were younger but now she feels more able to do more work outside of Winnipeg and travel, she said.

"I feel like its almost an obligation, I feel like I know the issues too well not to help more and not to do anything more about it," she said.

"I've listened and I've learned a lot in the last decade working in the media and being a journalist and I've come to know the issues intimately and I've lived them before and now it's time for me to give back to my northern community in a more direct way."

Earlier this year MKO came under fire after a number of allegations against outgoing Grand Chief David Harper. In March, the Swampy Cree chiefs representing seven First Nations said they "lost all faith" in Harper after he accepted money from the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.

North Wilson said she hopes to create needed change to bring integrity back to the organization.

The new grand chief starts her three-year term immediately.

With files from Angela Sterritt