Sayers places fourth in AFN leadership race

Dean Sayers, former head of Batchewana First Nation, failed to capture the votes necessary to become the Assembly of First Nations national chief during Wednesday's election in Ottawa.

Sayers was eliminated from the race during the second round of voting, placing fourth behind candidates Cindy Woodhouse (Pinaymootang First Nation), David Pratt (Muscowpetung First Nation) and Sheila North (Bunibonibee Cree Nation).

Candidates Craig Makinaw (Ermineskin Cree Nation) and Reginald Bellerose (Muskowekwan First Nation) were eliminated from contention during the first round of voting that took place earlier that day.

While North was eliminated during round three, the two remaining candidates still weren't able to capture the 60 per cent threshold by the end of the night, which necessitated a second day of voting.

Woodhouse finally secured her spot as the new AFN national chief after Pratt conceded on Thursday morning.

During his concession speech on Wednesday night, Sayers thanked his friends and family for supporting his campaign, which officially kicked off Oct. 26 at the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site.

Since then, Sayers has been travelling across the country to gauge the wants and needs of Indigenous leaders, since AFN represents over 600 communities nation-wide.

While he didn't manage to achieve his goal of leading this advocacy group into the future, Sayers told the AFN members gathered at the Shaw Centre on Wednesday to keep the younger generation in mind as they move forward.

"And I hope we are still considered nations as we move forward with this really suppressing, aggressive government that is ... new to our lands," he said.

"Thanks for sharing with me, from coast to coast to coast, your aspirations and expectations. I really appreciated the lessons and thoughts of your perspective with regards to this relationship that we struggle with with Canada."

Sayers served as the chief of Batchewana from 2003 until this past summer, when he finally lost his seat to Mark McCoy in a local election.

Throughout these two decades in office, Sayers pushed to assert the First Nations’ historical treaty rights in the region, including the right to secure natural resources.

Outside of helping to establish his community's own logging system, Sayers also played a key in negotiating the $10-billion Robinson-Huron Treaty settlement, with Batchewana and 20 other Ontario First Nations having been robbed of proper compensation for use of their land since 1875.

Sayers saw leading the AFN as the next logical step in his political career, especially given his experience as a member of the AFN's charter renewal committee.

AFN itself is moving into an uncertain future, with its last national chief, RoseAnne Archibald, being ousted from her role this past summer after colleagues accused her of creating a toxic work environment.

The non-confidence motion against Archibald was endorsed by 71 per cent of the voters who attended an AFN meeting in June, setting the stage for Wednesday's election.

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Kyle Darbyson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sault Star