By: Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com
As the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) transforms into the Otipemisiwak Métis Government in September, two people are vying to become its first president.
Joseph Pimlott from Calgary, and Andrea Sandmaier from Cold Lake, are the only two candidates seeking the top position.
There are two other provincial officers and both positions have been acclaimed. Tai May Grauman will serve as women’s representative, and Rebecca Lavallee is the youth representative. Under the new governance structure there is no vice president.
With 22 districts each requiring one citizen representative, eight were acclaimed. As of Aug. 9, five were still waiting for nominations.
As for the five district captains, one was acclaimed and three had no nominations as of Aug. 9.
The nominations for those vacant positions were extended from the original Aug. 4 deadline to Aug. 11.
Although the second nomination deadline has passed, the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer said in an email to Windspeaker.com that no new candidate information was available at this time.
According to the Otipemisiwak Election Law, after the Aug. 11 nomination deadline, nominations will be sought once a year for a by-election until the offices are filled.
District captains and citizen, women and youth representatives are all full-time positions paying an annual salary of $90,000 plus travel expenses. Whoever is appointed to Cabinet receives an additional $30,000.
The president receives $170,000 as an annual base salary plus travel expenses.
All terms are for four years.
Both Pimlott and Sandmaier say they were surprised by the lack of names that came forward, both for president and district positions. However, both say they don’t see the absence of nominations as an indication of lack of interest or reluctance.
After all, says Sandmaier, last November’s month-long ratification of the Otipemisiwak Constitution marked the largest turnout in an Indigenous ratification vote related to self-government in Canadian history. Thirty-one per cent of MNA membership eligible to vote marked ballots and 97 per cent voted in favour.
“People may have just been unsure (about candidacy). I think that there’s been a lot of questions asked in the last couple weeks, people coming forward and asking questions as to what the positions entail. But I think it’s just growing pains and I think we will fill those positions. I’m very confident that we will,” said Sandmaier.
While there seems to be hesitancy in the other positions, neither Pimlott nor Sandmaier had any hesitancy in putting their names forward for president.
“I’ve been involved with the MNA in some capacity for the past 15 years and it has ultimately been my goal in serving my community to become president,” said Pimlott.
He made that decision in 2011 when he shifted to the political side of the organization after serving in program positions since 2008. Pimlott has been local president, regional vice-president and provincial vice president. It is his first time seeking the position of provincial president.
For the past five years, Sandmaier has served as vice president of Region 2, which includes Cold Lake.
“I made it my priority to sit down and listen to citizens, not only in Region 2 but across the regions. And I’ve heard the same goal that we need to build a strong nation for our generations to come and prioritize better outcomes for citizens in health, housing, restorative justice,” said Sandmaier.
Sandmaier has also been endorsed by Audrey Poitras, who announced in June she would not be seeking re-election after holding the position of president for 27 years.
Sandmaier says she is “very proud” to have received Poitras’ endorsement.
In a news release announcing her support, Poitras said Sandmaier would “continue to build on (Poitras’) legacy.”
As for heralding in the new governance structure that came as a result of the new constitution, Sandmaier says it’s a “big job.”
“I think it’s always been a big job to be the president of any of the nations across the (Métis) homeland. But there’s a lot to do now that we’re moving under our government,” she said, adding there is a strong foundation upon which to build.
Under the new governance structure, local and regional councils are replaced by district councils and any assets held by the local and regional councils are transferred to the district councils.
Pimlott said that change will be the “biggest immediate challenge…(as) people have in the past gone to one area for an event and now they’re in a different district. There’s going to be a transition from a community member perspective too.”
Pimlott said to smooth that transition he’ll work with district captains and citizen representatives “because in every area they know their community members and they’re definitely going to have to have conversations with the communities on how this is going to transition out.”
Pimlott is proposing a change to the administrative structure as well. He is pushing for an Otipemisiwak satellite office to be set up in Calgary to serve the south. He says community members want to work with the Métis government but don’t want to relocate to the head office in Edmonton. He adds that he’s not necessarily thinking of splitting jobs between the north and south locations as much as creating new positions that would operate from Calgary.
While “the sky is the limit” for new positions, such as conservation consultation, Pimlott says he’s not clear where the funding would come from for those additional jobs.
“The satellite office is just a goal. It’s an idea that would have to go to the table and start looking at what could work and what could not work. I’m all about goal setting and making sure that everybody has a say at the table,” said Pimlott.
However, beyond guiding a new governance structure, the successful president will have to be concerned with other pressing issues, including legal challenges on a variety of fronts.
In the lead up to the ratification of the new constitution, Métis regions, locals and associations both in the north and the south, challenged decisions made by provincial leadership. In some instances, court action was taken.
“What I’ve noticed is that a lot of people feel that over the years that they haven’t really had a voice and I’m all about giving people equal opportunity to be able to have that voice,” said Pimlott.
Sandmaier said Métis citizens gave overwhelming support to move forward with the new government.
“We need to listen to our citizens as we have been and continue to move our nation. Our door will always be open. I’m a listener and I will always have that door open to listen to citizens,” she said.
Dissension has also been voiced by the Métis Settlements General Council (MSGC) and court action is underway. The MSGC contends that the Otipemisiwak constitution seeks to have the Otipemisiwak Métis Government represent all Métis within Alberta, including the Métis that are represented by the MSGC.
“When it comes to the Métis settlements, I believe that we need to be working with them. Moving into this position as a president, you have to establish that relationship and find common ground,” said Pimlott. “I believe that that is an extremely important component and we can’t assume anything when it comes to what other organizations are or people are thinking so we have to get it right from them.”
Sandmaier says there are “kinship ties” with all Métis in the province and she points to MSGC leadership having been invited to attend constitutional consultations.
“Our constitution doesn’t impact the distinct rights, powers, or lands of the Métis settlement. And again, we have always maintained and had an open door. Let’s collaborate. Let’s talk. And I will continue doing the same,” she said.
First Nations in Alberta joined with their other First Nations across the country in opposition to new federal legislation that acknowledges formally the Métis government, which is slated to receive third and final reading by year’s end.
According to a resolution passed at the July annual general assembly of the Assembly of First Nations, that legislation, Bill C-53, an Act respecting the recognition of certain Métis governments in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan, to give effect to treaties with those governments and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, will harm legitimate rights holders, impact federal funding in areas such as housing, education, and health, as well as grant dollars from industry.
“Our legislation is about our Métis governments, internal governance and it doesn’t deal with land or any land-related rights and won’t have any impact on First Nations or their rights,” said Sandmaier.
She added that her door was “open to building bridges to work with our First Nations cousins” and those talks were a “two-way street… Collaboration is needed on both sides.”
Pimlott said, “I would definitely begin by having conversations with those First Nations directly. I think that it’s extremely important to establish a relationship with them and then move forward after that with whatever comes out of that.”
As for his top priorities, Pimlott lists supporting youth, economic development, housing and tourism.
“I believe that everything that we do for our people is a priority in some capacity, so one definitely should not supersede others…To me, it all has equal value because they all complement each other,” he said.
Pimlott also stressed the need to get direction from “my team of citizen representatives.”
“We actually get to the table and have those conversations and figure out where we’re at and then move forward with that, create an action plan and move forward,” he said.
Sandmaier lists “building on our self-government” in the areas of educating youth, supporting Elders, and providing housing and health programs as a priority.
She also stresses the importance of continued work on a justice strategy and children’s authority.
She says she is looking forward to a “bright future” and she believes “in the Métis Nation self-government…(and) in our Métis Nation citizens.”
Sandmaier says Métis citizens should vote for her because “I’ve been working hard for the last five years as the Region 2 vice president, listening to our citizens, our Elders, our young people.”
Pimlott said Métis citizens should vote in his favour because “I bring a lot of passion and endurance to the table when it comes to the positions that I’ve had in the past and the presidency is no different. I will give 100 per cent of myself to the job and make sure that everybody is heard.”
Both candidates say this is a historic time for Alberta.
“I do believe that the right person will get in,” said Pimlott.
Elections will be held from Sept. 13 to Sept. 19. There will be 41 polling stations set up across the province to allow for in-person voting. Electronic voting will be open during the full voting period. There will also be mail-in ballots which citizens should request no later than 10 days prior to Sept. 19.