By: Alexandra Paul
Winnipeg Free Press
Derek Nepinak — the populist grand chief who backed Theresa Spence, rode a motorcycle across the Prairies and turned down meeting with Canada’s Prime Minister in a crusade to win recognition for treaties — was re-elected as 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.
Forty-eight chiefs and their proxies from Manitoba’s 63 First Nations registered to cast votes in 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 received 16 votes and Kent got six votes.
Fontaine used his concession speech to announce a decision to leave politics. He told chiefs he will meet with the Sagkeeng council in the "coming days or weeks" to plan an orderly transition of power.
He declined a request for an interview following the announcement, 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 in Ottawa.
The fast forced a political standoff between First Nations with the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Many of Canada’s chiefs rallied behind Nepinak in rejecting the Assembly of First Nation’s leadership when it met with the Prime Minister that January at the height of the Idle No More protest movement.