Saskatoon

Bobby Cameron re-elected as chief of Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations

Incumbent Bobby Cameron defeated challenger Delbert Wapass to be re-elected as chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations at an election in Saskatoon on Thursday.

Cameron defeated challenger Delbert Wapass by more than 500 votes at Saskatoon election

Bobby Cameron is congratulated by well-wishers after being re-elected to the position of FSIN chief on Thursday. (Omayra Issa/CBC News)

Incumbent Bobby Cameron defeated challenger Delbert Wapass to win re-election as chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in voting in Saskatoon on Thursday.

Cameron's victory was greeted with loud applause when officials announced he had won with 727 votes to Wapass's 216.

"We have a lot of work to do, a lot of important work to do," he said from the podium after the results were announced.

He told reporters he will not answer questions on "the negative stuff," adding that he will be happy to talk about his priorities of housing, the child welfare system and post-secondary education.  

'The battle isn't within'

But Cameron was asked about controversies surrounding the FSIN in recent weeks.  

"We pray for those people," said Cameron. 

"The battle isn't within, the bigger battle out there is with provincial and federal government."

He said action on treaty rights will be another of his priorities, as well as a proposed firearms law he says will affect hunters with treaty rights. 

With the election over, Cameron plans to go home and spend time with his children, noting that he is expecting to welcome another baby into his family in January. 

Morley Watson was also elected on Thursday to the position of first vice-chief with 524 votes to Darin Poorman's 414. 

"Let's build our federation back up," he told the crowd.

"We have many challenges. It's got to be all of us, every community."

Edward "Dutch" Lerat was elected third vice-chief with 467 votes, defeating Christine Jack with 124 and Corey Bugler with 355.

They join second vice-chief Heather Bear and fourth vice-chief David Pratt on the executive. Each executive member serves a three-year term.

Delegates travelled from across the province to cast their votes for the leader.

Delegates called for change before election  

Prior to the election, many voters said they wanted to see big changes.

"If we want to see change, it's going to have to be our young people, our elders and everyday community members determining our restructuring," FSIN youth delegate Darian Lonechild said from the podium Wednesday.

"If this organization is not training and nourishing our next generation of treaty warriors, then what good are we?"

Critics say the 72-year-old federation, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, has become mired in internal disputes and petty politics.

Police were called to the FSIN offices in Saskatoon last month during a dispute over who should be interim chief. Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand and others openly mused about leaving the federation or cutting off its funding from First Nations.

And this week, sources said the FSIN paid $20,000 to an anonymous hacker after a massive computer data breach.

Doug Cuthand says over the past couple of decades, some leaders have been 'co-opted' by the federal government or have become too concerned with staying in power. (Richard Agecoutay)

Delegate, voter and former FSIN executive member Doug Cuthand said every candidate repeats a pledge to fight for treaty rights, but the FSIN has slowly drifted away from that goal.

He said that's come over the past couple of decades, as some leaders have been "co-opted" by the federal government or have become too concerned with staying in power.

The two candidates for chief told delegates they've stood up for treaty rights their entire careers, but are prepared to overhaul the FSIN if delegates want that.

Cameron and Wapass both began with an address in Cree and greetings in other Indigenous languages on Wednesday.

Cameron said from the day he was first elected in 2011, "we hit the ground running."

He erased the federation's deficit and brought in random drug tests for leaders, he said, noting, "This is the way to live life."
Delbert Wapass, left, ran against Bobby Cameron, right, for the position of FSIN chief. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Cameron also cited progress made under his leadership on housing, treaty education, justice, child welfare and other areas.

"I will always be treaty focused," he said.

Wapass, a former FSIN vice-chief who also served 12 years as chief of Thunderchild First Nation, said the education funding gap is a "dire situation."

First Nations schools continue to receive thousands of dollars less per student than those in cities and towns. The gap is even greater when comparing French immersion.

"First and foremost, we are a treaty people," Wapass said.

With files from Ntawnis Piapot.

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