Kevin Hart, a member of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, beat out five other candidates for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) regional chief postion at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) annual assembly.
Hart said he originally planned to run for grand chief for Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) but was asked by different leaders and chiefs to reconsider his candidacy, and was asked to run for the regional chief instead. He noted that the support of women meant the most. “It felt good coming from the women. When I was nominated and endorsed I had three women chiefs from three different First Nations, so I was very honoured to have the support of the women out there, who are the protectors of our circle and life givers.”
Previously, Hart worked with MKO on files including the co-ordination of a regional conference of the western treaty nations, which focused on the Natural Resource Transfer Agreement.
After two rounds of balloting, Hart was elected on July 23. Hart won the majority of the chiefs’ votes on the second ballet, which meant he won over Bill Traverse, the incumbent. For Hart it was bittersweet because Traverse was the person who inspired Hart to first get into the world of politics. “He’s been a man that has been involved in politics for 30-odd years. He’s known as a tough leader, and he was someone I admired growing up. He was one of the reasons why I got involved in politics.”
In a press release, AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak mentioned what exiting chief Traverse accomplished. “With or without a title, Bill Traverse has a storied history of representing our people as a principled treaty leader in Manitoba. Regional Chief Traverse has stood with Indigenous leadership through very difficult times. From the challenges in Kanesatake Mohawk territory in the early 1990s, to the Manitoba Chiefs’ decision to not attend a controversial scripted meeting with Prime Minister Harper in early 2012, Bill Traverse has stood with us.”
Priorities for the new regional chief include working with authorities to create good relationships, as well as helping the families of missing and murdered indigenous women. “It’s getting tiresome seeing our young women going missing every week,” Hart explained.
Another main priority involves the next federal and provincial election. “I want to make sure the numbers get out in the First Nations communities, so we’re a force to be reckoned with. I don’t want them to say First Nation people don’t vote. We’re going to let this current government know that First Nations people matter, and we mean business.”
Hart says although he has pretty big shoes to fill, he’s excited for the new position, and thanks his family, elders and leaders who supported him during the race.