I was elected Grand Chief of AMC on July 19, 2017 and have been working hard for all of us in many areas since taking office .

I’d like to acknowledge my nominator Chief Betsy Kennedy of War Lake First Nation and my seconder Chief Glenn Hudson of Peguis First Nation; along with all my signatories that helped get me elected as Grand Chief.

I was born and raised in Pukatawagan, Manitoba. I am a member of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation and had a very traditional Cree upbringing and education that included living on the trapline, engaging in ceremony, and learning Cree as my first language.

I feel blessed to have been part of such a politically active family that was engaged in nation-building and maintaining our extensive Cree relations.

My grandfather was the former Chief of Mathias Colomb and my extended family worked directly for our community in education, health, and governance. I have carried on their commitment to our community first by serving as a councillor and then as Chief.

Before running for Grand Chief, I made sure that my family and community were fully supportive.

Experience

I have learned a great deal from all of the Chiefs and councillors, as my colleagues, your incredibly wisdom and experience has taught me so much.

I have learned more about First Nation laws and policies, politics and governance, protocols and diplomacy, as well as advocacy and negotiations working with all of you you, than I ever could in a classroom.

It was this experience that helped me first get elected to Council at Mathias Colomb in 2004 and re-elected in 2006.

I am grateful for the mentorship and guidance provided to me by MCCN’s former Chiefs, councillors and elders who helped my get elected to Chief for the first time in 2008. From there, I was re-elected four times for a total of five consecutive terms as Chief of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation.

At Swampy Cree Tribal Council, I have served as both the Grand Chief and Vice Grand Chief tackling issues specific to our region. At MKO, I have served in various positions, including on the Executive and as Vice-Chief. I have also served in many capacities at the AMC, including Executive, finance, TLEC, treaty and self-government committees.

I believe the role of the Grand Chief at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is to take a non-partisan position. Governments change and we have to be willing to work with whichever party is elected.

Child Welfare reform

As a teenager, my first job was stocking shelves at the Northern Store in Pukatawagan. But I consider my first real job working for Mathias Colomb as an intervenor. When the Child Family Services workers showed up to apprehend children, it was my job to help find family for the kids to stay with on the reserve. I knocked on many doors, looking for a home so our children could stay in the community.

Then something changed and we were no longer keeping our kids. I want to change this. We need to bring our children home again. Through the Family Child Advocate office at AMC, we have created a different way of keeping our children in the community. It focuses on prevention and not apprehension. And I look forward to this innovative approach becoming a reality.

In order to do this, we have to create a new relationship and negotiate a new arrangement with the federal government over CFS reform where we, as First Nations, will have jurisdiction over the current system or create a new one that is beneficial to families.

Third-party management

As Chief of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, I got my community out of co-management with the province.

From the time I was born in 1975 until the year 2000, there was not one suicide in Pukatawagan. But after the reserve was put into intervention, I could feel the weight of it. I could see it on the people’s faces; see it manifest itself in our daily lives.

After being released from co-management, I could also see the change in the community and our members. The moment we got out of if, you could feel it.

If we want to do things differently in Manitoba, we have to get all of our First Nations out of intervention. I have already put forward a plan to make this happen by the end of my term, if not sooner. But the government has to be willing to work with us to see this success through as they did with Pukatawagan.

Treaty Rights

I cannot state this clear enough: Our treaty rights are portable. They do not end at the border of the reserve. They follow us wherever we go and live.

I was raised on my grandfather’s trapline. I am a product of not only that upbringing but I am also a recipient of the education agreements we have with the government and our treaty right for post-secondary education.

When I was growing up, the Chiefs and leadership had inventive approaches – and I directly benefitted from that. It is time to change the direction we are headed in, and get back on the course laid out by our predecessors that helped me get to where I am today. And now, I want to pay that forward.

I simply followed the roadmap that was laid out in the 1980s by the Chiefs and leaders in my community – and it brought me here. I want the same for our children and our children’s children.

People and Culture

As your Grand Chief, it is important to me to connect with our people at all levels. Whether you are a Chief, councillor, an Elder or a community member, I want to know how what we do at the Assembly affects you in your daily life and how we can improve that.

Currently, the AMC runs a variety of programs that help our people. The Eagle Urban Transition Centre is there to help you navigate moving from the reserve and rural areas into the city; the Child Family Advocate office is working to bring our children home; our Patient Advocate Unit is a resource for our First Nations people to help connect them with the right medical services to meet their health care needs; and of course, the Grandmothers’ Council advises and guides the AMC on all that we do.

Last word

Both the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the different levels of government must have a true desire to work together to create meaningful change. Together, we can do great things but we must take a First Nations first approach.

I know that we as First Nations can come together as one to gain control over all areas that affect our well-being, day-to-day life, livelihoods, and most importantly our children.