Historic win on ERFN

by Derek Cornet

English River First Nation (ERFN) recently elected its first-ever female chief.

By a wide margin, chief Marie Black won the ERFN election Oct. 25 with 247 votes. Coming in second was Cheryl Maurice with 86 votes and Michael Wolverine was third with 41. In addition to the vote for chief, five people also earned a seat on council including. They are Gloria Apesis, Russell Black, Angie Campbell, Archie Campbell and Bernadette Eaglechild.

Black, who also filled in as chief when former chief Alfred Dawatsare resigned earlier this year, said it’s been a dream of hers to be chief for nearly two decades.

“I had a vision back in 1994 while studying at the Northern Professional Access Program in La Ronge,” Black said. “I knew my people needed a good person to lead them and I wanted to be that person.”

Black has been a councillor for the band since first elected in 1999. In the past 14 years, she’s been elected seven times by a loyal base of supporters. Black also spent 15 years as the band manager and has lived on and off the reserve for more than half a century.

Black ran on a campaign to keep the status quo. She said the band has made great strides in terms of its operations and noted education was an area she’s particularly proud of. She said more members than ever before are obtaining their high school diplomas and completing post-secondary degrees.

“We have a lot to be a proud of,” Black said. “We are a successful people and it can be seen in our actions.”

As for the reason why now was the best time to run, Black said a lot of it had to do with the passing of her husband last year. Before his death, he encouraged her to run for chief in the next election because he had faith in her leadership. She was also approached by a group of elders about two years ago, telling her it was her time to lead. Black said the conversation left her feeling humbled and strong.

“I won because I had the support and the endorsement from our elders,” she said.
As for her vision of the future, Black is confident the community will continue to do well under her watch. While on council, Black said she shifted around between portfolios, so she had a good grasp of ERFN’s current situation.

Within the Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC), Black and Carol Bernard of Waterhen Lake First Nation are currently the only female chiefs in the nine-band membership. Bernard said she congratulates Black on the win and looks forward to working with her at the MLTC level.
Bernard, who was elected the first female chief of her band in 2010, said her community has been supportive of her leadership and she hasn’t come across any obstacles because of her gender. Bernard admitted, however, not every First Nation is receptive to female leadership for a variety of different reasons.

“In Waterhen Lake, I never feel like I’m thought of differently because I’m a woman,” Bernard said. “I’m happy to see Black become chief because our past has been so male-orientated  and women have been under-represented.”

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