Diane M. Kelly was the first woman elected Grand Chief of the Grand Council of Treaty 3, and if elected as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, would be the first woman in that role as well. But gender shouldn’t be the deciding factor, says Kelly.
“We all have gifts (and) not necessarily because you’re a man or a woman. It’s because of your life’s experiences. And that’s what I’m bringing to the table, my life experiences and my work experiences and work ethic,” she said.
Kelly is concentrating on the treaty relationship between Canada and treaty First Nations.
“I’m running because I think we need a really strong voice on treaties. There’s so many First Nation communities that are impacted and our treaties are our strength and we need to get that voice out there,” she said.
Kelly, who is Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation, believes she is qualified for the top job. She served as Grand Chief at Grand Council Treaty 3 from 2008 to 2012 and is a lawyer. She has extensive experience in First Nations governance, board training, land claims research and development, treaty negotiations, education policies, and all aspects of child welfare.
“I’m also running because I’m educated in both worlds,” she said. “I’ve also been taught by the Elders about the spirit and intent of the treaties, since I was a young child.”
As well, Treaty 3 was involved in a court case, asking the court to declare that the treaty right to education had been breached. In a media release, Kelly said the government went back on its words from 1873 when it promised that Treaty 3 would be entitled to more education than farming initiatives, since the area wasn’t conducive to farm.
In addition to concentrating on treaties, Kelly wants to elevate First Nations education.
“We have a treaty right to education. So, we shouldn’t be marginalized, and that’s really the key to the future,” she said.
First Nations have been fighting with mining companies and other resource related developments for years. One of the most recent fights is in northwestern Ontario between Ring of Fire First Nations, the province and a mining company. First Nations there have indicated they would be on the same playing fields as companies and the government if they had the financial resources and adequate time to meaningfully consult their communities.
“We have to have the capacities within the communities to make informed decisions because the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples indicates that we do have to consent, and our treaties indicate that we have to consent to these projects. But we have to be properly informed and educated about the impacts so we can make those decisions ... we have to ensure we are making the best decision with the least impact to the future. Because we have responsibilities and not just rights. Those responsibilities have to be equally looked at,” said Kelly.
Kelly says strong leadership is needed.
“We have a Conservative majority government right now, that’s passing all kinds of pieces of legislation impacting our communities and we need to have a strong voice.”
Though only Chiefs can vote for National Chief, grassroots are closely following the race and sharing news articles through social media on Facebook and Twitter. Kelly is well aware of their voices and would like to include the people in AFN decision-making. Kelly says the AFN as a political advocacy group needs to be balanced with the voice of the people.
“We have rights and we have responsibilities, and so does the AFN, which has a role of political advocacy and we’ll need to have a forum to be able to hear from the people,” she said.