WINNIPEG — Derek Nepinak — the populist grand chief who backed Theresa Spence, rode a motorcycle across the Prairies and turned down a meeting with the prime minister in a crusade to win recognition for treaties — was re-elected Manitoba’s First Nations leader Wednesday.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs re-elected the treaty and sovereignty rights crusader as their grand chief on the first ballot.
It is the second term in office for the incumbent.
“It’s a humbling moment once again to stand here and accept this obligation and the work ahead of us,” Nepinak said. He congratulated his opponents and praised them as “good men with commitment and courage.”
Forty-eight chiefs and their proxies from Manitoba’s 63 First Nations registered to cast votes at the election, held at Swan Lake First Nation’s urban reserve in Headingley.
Nepinak was re-elected with 26 votes, the equivalent of 50 per cent plus one.
This year, the campaign was a low-profile affair, with Nepinak in a race against two contenders, Sagkeeng Chief Donavan Fontaine and former Black River chief Sheldon Kent. Fontaine won 16 votes and Kent six votes.
Fontaine used his concession speech to announce a decision to leave politics. He told chiefs he will meet with his council at Sagkeeng in the “coming days or weeks” to plan an orderly transition of power as the First Nation’s chief.
He declined a request for an interview afterward, saying the focus should be on the newly re-elected grand chief’s victory.
First Nation chiefs are the only eligible voters in the election held every three years for AMC’s grand chief.
Nepinak earned national attention during the winter of discontent two years ago when Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence held a liquid fast in a teepee near Parliament Hill.
The fast forced a political standoff between First Nations and the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Many of Canada’s chiefs rallied behind Nepinak in rejecting the Assembly of First Nations leadership when it went ahead with a meeting with the prime minister that January at the height of the Idle No More protest movement.
First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo resigned his office this spring over his failure to win support for a federal education bill that the Harper government subsequently shelved.
Many observers traced his political downfall to fallout from that winter.
» Winnipeg Free Press