Chief Craig Makinaw is member of the Ermineskin Cree Nation at Maskwacis. A knowledgeable politician with an extensive portfolio, a successful track record and experience at the international level, Chief Makinaw recently took office as the new Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Alberta Regional Chief. The election for Alberta Regional Chief took place on May 21, 2015, when the Chiefs of Treaties 6, 7 and 8 cast their votes to determine who would represent them in Ottawa. The election was held in conjunction with the Special Assembly of Treaty Chiefs on Health at the Marriott at the River Cree Resort.
Chief Makinaw defeated the only other candidate in the election, Ms. Leila Houle of the Whitefish Lake First Nation; the final tally of the vote was 22-18. Chief Makinaw officially took office on July 1. He replaced outgoing Regional Chief Cameron Alexis, who, for personal reasons, chose not to seek re-election.
The upcoming federal election will play an integral role in determining which of several paths Chief Makinaw will journey through as he works to bring awareness to Canadians and fairness to First Nations, not just in Alberta, but across the nation.
“The fact is that there’s virtually no forward motion when it comes to dealing with the Conservative government in Ottawa today; we need to be moving forward, creating better opportunities and better lives for our people,” said Chief Makinaw.
Until then, there is still much to do, he added.
“Until we are sure who will be leading the country after the federal election this fall, it is hard to determine which road to choose,” he explained in an interview. “So for the time being I will continue to advocate for and support Alberta’s Chiefs at the national level and I will continue to work on the issues I highlighted during my campaign for Regional Chief of Alberta.”
Chief Makinaw plans to bring local issues to the AFN, noting that many other First Nation communities have similar issues that may be easier resolved by working together at the national level.
“Educational equity, revenue sharing, infrastructure, poor water and sewage conditions, and housing shortages are among the issues that many First Nations in the province are dealing with,” he said. “These are some of the issues I am concentrating on. No matter who wins the election, we need to get back to the table and get the issue of education resolved. We want to control our own schools and our own curriculum that will ensure our students get the traditional, cultural and spiritual components they need to achieve their autonomy.”
The 2015 Alberta Indigenous Games took place in Edmonton earlier this month; Chief Makinaw was in attendance, participating in the Grand Entry during the official opening and commenting to the athletes and supporters who came out to witness the event.
The Regional Chief isn’t just about politics, he’s also an avid believer in youth and the role that sports can play in their lives. In fact, he was one the athletes who participated in the first Indigenous Games in Alberta back in the 1990s.
“I was an outfielder, a fastball (softball) player,” said Chief Makinaw, noting that he also played for the Lac La Biche Golden Eagles, an activity that he maintained for 10 years. He also enjoys golf.
But, he added, there’s little time to play sports these days; his new job requires daily attention.
“There is much to do right now,” he said, including his ongoing efforts to improve opportunities for his community members and those throughout Alberta. Schooling and training are a priority, as is convincing government to help with education by freeing up the money needed to establish viable programs and training initiatives.
Chief Makinaw is also looking forward to working with Alberta’s newly elected premier, Rachel Notley. He wants to put a strategic plan in place that will allow for better engagement with all levels of government, regional, national and international. Missing and murdered Aboriginal girls and women, the environment, child welfare, health and supporting Alberta’s First Nation chiefs and communities are among the challenges he is facing and working on today.
The October 2015 federal election could bring renewed hope to Canada’s Indigenous peoples and communities, but for that to happen Canadians have to turn their ears off and turn their thumbs down to Prime Minister Harper’s attempt to remain in power.
National Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde, who called to congratulate Chief Makinaw the day after he won his seat at the AFN table, has called on Chiefs across the country to talk to their communities, ensure members they have the newly required documentation needed to vote, and to choose a political party other than the Conservatives. Chief Makinaw supports that decision.
“We do need a government in Ottawa who is willing to work with First Nations,” noted Chief Makinaw. “We have lost rather than gained ground since 2005 so yes, I urge everyone, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal to vote this fall with the idea of changing the government. Choose the party you think will have our best interests in mind; right now that appears to be two choices, Liberal or New Democratic.”
Asked if he would comment on why some Chiefs have declared their intentions not to vote in this or any other federal or provincial election, he replied: “Each of us has his or her own beliefs and to be honest, when I first started out as a young man, I felt the same way. Personally, I think we need to vote if we are not happy with the way governments treat us, but I would never tell anybody that they have to vote or who they should vote for. That is up to the individual.”
Chief Craig Makinaw is the former Grand Chief of Treaty 6, a position now held by Grand Chief Bernice Martial. He is also the former Chief of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, a position he held from 2011-2014. He was also an Ermineskin Cree Nation Councillor, a position he maintained for 18 years (1993-2011). As Grand Chief of Treaty 6 and as Chief of the Ermineskin Cree, Craig Makinaw presented numerous position papers at the Senate level to Bills that included C-38, C-45, C-7, C5-6 and C 428. He has also printed position papers at the United Nations, both in New York and Geneva, Switzerland.
Chief Makinaw is married to his wife Delorma Buffalo-Makinaw; together they have three sons at home and have raised six other children, all of whom are now adults.
by John Copley