Cathy Merrick made history Wednesday when she was elected the first woman grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
Merrick was elected following two rounds of voting by the chiefs, who were in attendance at the AMC’s 34th annual general assembly at the Wyndham Hotel on the Long Plain First Nation urban reserve. She beat out Eugene Eastman, Jennifer Flett, George Kemp, Cora Morgan, Sheila North and Darrell N. Shorting for the advocacy group’s top spot.
In the first round of voting, 59 votes were cast, including 17 for Merrick, 13 for Kemp, 10 for North, seven for Eastman, five votes apiece for Shorting and Flett, and two for Morgan.
According to the AMC’s requirements, the winning candidate needed at least 11 votes to advance to the next ballot, so the second vote’s candidates were narrowed down to Merrick and Kemp. Out of 59 total votes cast, with a minimum of 30 needed to win, Merrick received 37 votes, beating out Kemp, who received 22.
Merrick, a councillor and former chief of Pimicikamak Cree Nation (also known as Cross Lake, located 551 kilometres north of Brandon) acknowledged that her election was a first for the AMC.
“You should all be proud. I’m the first woman chief for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.”
In a news release posted on the AMC’s website, the group congratulated Merrick.
“We look forward to your advocacy and leadership,” the release said.
Taking care of her people will be the core of the work Merrick will undertake as grand chief, she said on Wednesday. This will include tackling issues such as cost of living for elders, violence in First Nations communities and seeking justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and men.
“I will work hard for our people,” she said after she was declared the winner. “I will work hard for our nations to be represented in the assembly.”
The byelection came after the AMC removed previous grand chief Arlen Dumas over sexual harrassment allegations.
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson congratulated Merrick in a press release Wednesday afternoon, highlighting Merrick’s role as the first female grand chief of the AMC.
Merrick will provide “great leadership” and advocate on pertinent issues as well as advance the priorities of Manitoba First Nations, Stefanson said.
“As the first female premier of Manitoba, I look forward to working together with the first female grand chief of the AMC,” she said.
“I welcome this chapter and am optimistic and excited about the future of our province and growing the relationship and collaboration between the Manitoba government and the AMC under the leadership of Grand Chief Merrick.”
The AMC was formed in 1988 by a group of Manitoba chiefs to advocate for issues that affected their First Nations, where Anishinaabe (Ojibway), Nehetho (Cree), Oji-Cree, Dene and Dakota peoples reside.
Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun