Good­bye, Grand Chief

Ron Michel re­tir­ing af­ter four terms head­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion

Prince Albert Daily Herald - - FRONT PAGE - ARTHUR WHITE-CRUM­MEY @arthur­whitePA • Arthur.white@pa­her­ald.sk.ca

Ron Michel is re­tir­ing as grand chief of PAGC, which chooses his suc­ces­sor to­day

The Prince Al­bert Grand Coun­cil is se­lect­ing its next leader Tues­day, as four-term grand chief Ron Michel en­ters re­tire­ment.

“It’s cer­tainly a big day,” the 65-yearold Michel said. “It’s hard. I’ll miss ev­ery­one.”

Three men – Brian Hard­lotte, Elmer Bal­lan­tyne and Charles White­cap – are com­pet­ing to lead the group, which rep­re­sents 12 First Na­tions in cen­tral and north­ern Saskatchewan. They spent Mon­day cir­cling around the Sen­a­tor Allen Bird Me­mo­rial Cen­tre, try­ing to lock up enough del­e­gates to se­cure a win.

Hard­lotte served as vice chief un­til last year, where he worked closely with Michel. He called the out­go­ing grand chief a “men­tor,” whose de­par­ture is an emo­tional mo­ment for the coun­cil.

“I had the priv­i­lege and the hon­our to work with a great man, a great leader,” Hard­lotte said.

He said he plans to carry for­ward Michel’s “legacy,” es­pe­cially work they did to bring a First Na­tions hos­pi­tal to Prince Al­bert.

Hard­lotte’s other pri­or­i­ties cen­tre on hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and jus­tice. He said First Na­tions have to put up a uni­fied front and push all lev­els of govern­ment to ful­fill their com­mit­ments. He also stressed the im­por­tance of de­vel­op­ing com­mu­nity strate­gic plans to ad­dress the sui­cide cri­sis in Saskatchewan’s north.

“In Stan­ley Mis­sion, my com­mu­nity, we just lost an­other young per­son,” Hard­lotte said.

He said that the coun­cil’s 12 First Na­tions have to “as­sert their sovereignty” and call for treaty-based fund­ing from Ot­tawa.

That’s a mes­sage shared by his ri­val Elmer Bal­lan­tyne, a for­mer vice chief and cur­rent in­struc­tor at First Na­tions Uni­ver­sity. Bal­lan­tyne said the coun­cil has to push for long-term fi­nanc­ing to con­quer challenges like hous­ing. Like Hard­lotte, he said the coun­cil’s mem­bers need to take a proac­tive line with the feds.

“We can’t al­ways be di­rected by the fed­eral govern­ment. We have to ini­ti­ate some of those things,” he said. “Right now, a lot of the ser­vices that are pro­vided to us are im­posed on us.”

Bal­lan­tyne has run for the grand chief po­si­tion three times be­fore. He said Grand Chief Michel’s re­tire­ment is an op­por­tu­nity for change, and he thinks he’s the per­son who can de­liver it.

“Brian’s been there,” he said. “I think it’s time we take an­other di­rec­tion.”

The third man in the race, Charles White­cap, plays on his 40 years of ex­pe­ri­ence as a coun­cil­lor with Shoal Lake First Na­tion and as a po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sor to the Prince Al­bert Grand Coun­cil.

White­cap is a colour­ful char­ac­ter, sport­ing a long goa­tee beard and an eye patch partly hid­den be­hind sun­glasses. He’s ea­ger to talk about gov­er­nance.

“My pri­or­i­ties are to re­view the struc­tures and in­stru­ments of the grand coun­cil and es­tab­lish a more di­rect line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the chiefs to the fed­eral govern­ment,” he said.

He’s also propos­ing a new fo­rum that will bet­ter in­te­grate band coun­cil­lors into the grand coun­cil.

“The struc­ture right now has been around as long as I can re­mem­ber,” he said. “I think it’s time it gets re­viewed.”

The can­di­dates say they’ve been mak­ing the rounds to com­mu­ni­ties, with trips as far afield as Fond du Lac and Black Lake.

Michel had ad­vice for all of them as he took the podium be­fore the coun­cil’s as­sem­bly.

“Be kind to your peo­ple, es­pe­cially your vot­ers,” he said, elic­it­ing laugh­ter

“Talk to your peo­ple, you’re no higher than any­body else... You take care of your peo­ple and you’ll never re­gret it.”

His words earned a stand­ing ova­tion.

“Talk to your peo­ple, you’re no higher than any­body else... You take care of your peo­ple and you’ll never re­gret it.” Out­go­ing Grand Chief Ron Michel

ARTHUR WHITE-CRUM­MEY/DAILY HER­ALD

Grand Chief Ron Michel, far right, stands next to FSIN chief Bobby Cameron for the open­ing of the PAGC’s Gen­eral As­sem­bly Mon­day.

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