In a surprising move, the man who led the Quebec Cree Nation for the last four years as grand chief has conceded the race for a second term.
Abel Bosum made the announcement Thursday morning in Cree on James Bay Cree Communications Society radio.
"I'm comfortable with my decision not to participate in the run-off," said Bosum in an interview with CBC North's Cree unit. "After reviewing the results from yesterday of course I had questions as to what were the reasons for the way people voted."
In Wednesday's election, Bosum received 29.6 per cent of the vote, compared to 46.6 per cent for his rival and current deputy grand chief, Mandy Gull-Masty.
Bosum said after speaking with local organizers in all the communities Thursday morning, he feels a number of factors played into his results, from voter apathy and anger over COVID-19 measures in the Cree communities, to a movement that has seen Indigenous women break through traditional glass ceilings, such as the recent election of RoseAnne Archibald as the first female national chief of Assembly of First Nations.
A run-off election has been confirmed for July 29 between the first and third place finishers Gull-Masty and Pakesso Mukash, an award-winning musician, translator and activist, who received 23.9 per cent of the vote.
The run-off is needed because no one candidate received the 50 per cent plus one needed to win on a first ballot, according to Cree Chief Electoral Officer Robin Pachanos.
Reaction to news of Bosum's concession was swift on social media.
Bosum said he didn't want to further divide the Cree Nation, when it was clear to him that Gull-Masty was their choice for grand chief.
"It has to do with a principal that I believe in and that is the unity of the Cree Nation," said Bosum, adding he is throwing his support behind Gull-Masty.
"I knew very well that going into a run-off it would be harder and most likely create a division in the Cree Nation. I certainly don't want to leave a legacy, whether I won or not, knowing that I divided the Cree Nation."
This was Bosum's first term as grand chief. Before 2017, he spent 16 years as chief Quebec negotiator for the Cree Nation. In February of 2020 Bosum, along with Quebec premier François Legault, signed the $4.7 billion dollar Grande Alliance agreement. At the time it was called the Cree vision of development and one that would put the Cree population in the driver's seat of development in their territory.
Gull-Masty was critical in her campaign over how La Grande Alliance was negotiated and has been communicated to the population. She also committed to holding a referendum on La Grande Alliance, which is currently undergoing a first-phase feasibility study.
Mukash was also critical of the project, saying it was too early to say whether it was indeed a "Cree vision" of development.
Voter turnout low
There were 13,634 eligible voters across the 450,000 square kilometres of territory and 10 communities, as well as voters living outside the territory in places like Montreal and Ottawa.
Unofficial numbers show less than 35 per cent of eligible voters turned out in this first round. Official voter turnout numbers are expected soon.
In his career prior to public office, Bosum led the negotiations that ended with the signing of the Paix des Braves in 2002. From 1984 to 1998, he was Chief of the Oujé-Bougoumou Cree Nation and led efforts in his community to get a land base and get recognition as the 9th Cree community, something formalized in 1992.
A run-off has also been confirmed in the race for deputy grand chief between Ashley Iserhoff and Norman A. Wapachee.