Hardlotte elected grand chief
The former vice chief won a spectacular 161 of 247 votes cast on Tuesday to take the top spot at Prince Albert Grand Council
Brian Hardlotte approached his mentor on Tuesday afternoon, just minutes after winning a resounding victory to lead the Prince Albert Grand Council.
The two men embraced, and exchanged a few words.
“Ron said to me, ‘well grand chief, it’s time to pass on,’” Hardlotte recounted. “You’re the grand chief now. I know you’re going to do the good work.”
Ron Michel, the council’s four-term leader, recalls saying something else: “I knew it.”
Hardlotte won a huge majority in Tuesday’s PAGC election. He earned 161 votes, 112 more than his closest competitor, to end the vote on the first ballot.
He stepped to the podium to thank those who supported him. His father was in the audience, as were all the assembled chiefs from the PAGC’s twelve member nations.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “At the same time, I know that it’s going to be a lot of work.”
He called for unity. His two competitors – Shoal Lake’s Charles Whitecap and Montreal Lake’s Elmer Ballantyne – are like “brothers,” he said. But his warmest words were for Michel.
“You will always be the grand chief of the Prince Albert Grand Council,” Hardlotte said. “You are a good mentor and I know you will continue that work.”
Then he spoke about the battles that lay ahead. The day before, the council’s General Assembly passed a resolution calling for an investigation into this summer’s wildfires. Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Peter Beatty said a provincial “let it burn” policy allowed the fires get out of control. The province denies that any such policy exists.
But Hardlotte insists that it does. He said that the province “manages” fires, trying to control them until they get too close to communities.
You will always be the grand chief of the Prince Albert Grand Council. You are a good mentor and I know you will continue that work.” PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte, speaking to outgoing Grand Chief Michel
But Hardlotte, a former fireman himself, would like to see firefighters snuffing out the blazes soon after they start.
“It has to be those boots on the ground to prevent the evacuation of the communities, to prevent the forests from burning, to prevent the animals from burning,” he said. “You’ve got to suppress it, plain and simple.”
He said evacuations can be traumatic for northern communities.
“It’s a lot of stress for the elders, a lot of stress for the people, the people who are sick,” he said.
Hardlotte said he’ll take that message to Ottawa and Regina. On all issues, he said he wants work closely with all levels of government, and make sure the PAGC has the ear of the powerful.
“We have to be able to get into the privy council,” he said, “the secretariat of the cabinet, and open the doors for Prince Albert Grand Council.”
He said government has to provide more resources to First Nations in Saskatchewan, particularly to help fight a crisis of suicide in northern communities.
“It has to be a community strategy, but the money has to be there. We need those resource people to work with our band councillors, our chiefs,” he said. “The answers are there – the answers are in the communities.”
After his speech, Hardlotte read the oath of his new office, swearing to protect the treaty rights and traditions of the council’s member First Nations. Michel adorned him with a headdress, and chiefs Cook-Searson and Sayazie wrapped him in a star blanket.
He then shook hands with the hundreds of delegates and onlookers who filled the Senator Allen Bird Centre. His face lit up as he chatted with friends and supporters.
Michel said that connection with the grassroots is one of the new grand chief’s greatest assets.
“He’s a people person, community minded,” Michel said. “He knows how to communicate.”
The old chief said he will always be there to advise his protegé, whenever he calls. In the meantime, he’s going to enjoy his retirement.
“I’m going to take it easy for a year,” he said. “I’ll be lazy.”
Despite all the challenges, Hardlotte said he’s optimistic for the future. He said the council’s communities have great potential.
“Sometimes we fail, the media, even us, to highlight that the positives outweigh the negatives in every community,” he said. “As nations we need to build on it.”
Newly elected PAGC grand chief Brian Hardlotte greets Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook Searson, who nominated him for the position.
Outgoing Grand Chief Ron Michel shakes hands with his successor, Brian Hardlotte, shortly after ballots were counted Tuesday.
Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte wearing a star blanket draped over him by Chief Tammy Cook-Searson and Chief Coreen Sayazie.