Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee announced his intention to seek a second term as head of the northern First Nations advocacy organization July 15.
“I want to thank all the MKO leadership for putting their faith in me and allowing me to carry out this sacred duty of advocating on behalf of our First Nations," said Settee, who was elected as grand chief in August 20818, beating out Ted Bland by capturing 53 of 89 votes.
A former chief of Pimicikamak Cree Nation from 2008 to 2013, Settee has seen much affecting Northern Manitoba First Nations over the course of his term, most notably the COVID-19 pandemic, associated lockdowns and the military-assisted effort to vaccinate residents of the province’s remote and isolated Fist Nations, among them many of MKO’s 26 members.
“It has been empowering to have a role in advocating for better supports for First Nations throughout the COVID-19 crisis and it was an honour to encourage governments to prioritize First Nations people to receive access to the vaccines,” he said in a statement announcing his candidacy.
The current grand chief also made reference to the unfolding recognition of the treatment of Indigenous people during the residential school era, brought to the forefront by the discovery of the remains of 215 children in Kamloops in late May and in many other locations since.
“There is a growing awareness about the lasting impact of the residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, and the foster care system on our people,” said Settee. “It is my wish to stand up to these injustices along with you as we seek to locate our children who were lost due to the residential school system.”
If re-elected, Settee intends to focus on youth and mental wellness across the north, as well issues of poverty, homelessness, food insecurity, economic development, rising Manitoba Hydro rates, and systemic racism in the justice and health care systems.
A former high school teacher of First Nation studies and law, Settee is also concerned about education, particularly unequal access for students in northern First Nations.
“As the pandemic has clearly shown, access to high-speed internet is a key to equity when it comes to accessing essential services such as education,” he said. “Having access to internet provides education, health and economic opportunities as our First Nations continue to seek and grow sustainable local economies.”
Leaders of MKO member First Nations will elect the organization’s next grand chief Aug. 18, during the annual general assembly in Norway House Cree Nation.