By Jeremy Appel
(ANNews) – Elections are underway from Sept. 13 to 19 for the inaugural Otipemisiwak Métis Government.
The Otipemisiwak constitution, approved by an overwhelming majority in December, was a necessary step towards the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) achieving self-government.
The new constitution allows nation members to elect representatives, offer feedback on legislation and challenge government decisions. It created 22 districts, each which elects its own representative to the citizens’ council, which manages relations with the provincial government.
Previously, the MNA had six regions, each with a president and vice-president, as well as a provincial president and vice-president, which collectively formed the provincial council.
Under the new constitution, each district is empowered to elect their own district council, which delivers programs and manages consultation and lands on a local level, and is led by a district captain.
Of the 22 districts, just five are electing a district captain — District 4 (Rockyview), District 6 (Calgary Elbow), District 12 (St. Paul-Cold Lake), District 20 (Athabasca) and District 22 (Wabasca-Desmarais).
The Otipemisiwak government has a judicial branch as well, which ensures all government activities are consistent with the law, and that in turn all laws are consistent with the constitution.
In February, the MNA, alongside the Métis governments in Saskatchewan and Ontario, reached agreements with the federal government that put them on par with First Nations as distinct orders of government.
In addition to electing citizen representatives and district captains, Métis citizens will elect a new president after Audrey Poitras, who served as president for 27 years, announced her retirement in June.
The president represents the MNA on the Métis National Council, which represents the interests of Métis people nationally.
There are two presidential candidates running in the 2023 election — outgoing Region 2 vice president Andrea Sandmaier and Joseph Pimlott, who previously served as Region 3 vice president and MNA vice president.
Sandmaier, who worked as a banking and mortgage specialist for 15 years before entering Métis politics in 2018, told Alberta Native News that since her election, she’s prioritized connecting with Métis citizens to hear “their stories, hopes and dreams for the future.”
As provincial president, Sandmaier would prioritize enhancing health, housing, education, economic reconciliation, and restorative justice, as well as getting Métis self-government “across the finish line so Métis in Alberta can finally decide for ourselves how to best serve our community and preserve our way of life, culture, language and history.”
She identified addiction as the biggest challenge facing Métis citizens in Alberta, specifically difficulty accessing treatment.
“We need culturally appropriate recovery and aftercare programming, and I will advocate tirelessly to ensure adequate funding and supports are provided to support our Citizens,” Sandmaier said.
The new governance structure allows Métis citizens to play a greater role in shaping how the MNA approaches these issues, with 22 districts, as opposed to six regions, permitting more local decision making, she added.
Serving as a regional representative, with various committee roles, by day while running for the presidency is a challenge.
“While the days are long, I wouldn’t change anything,” Sandmaier said. “Being able to serve my nation while simultaneously campaigning to earn the votes and trust of our Citizens is extremely fulfilling.”
Sandmaier has received Poitras’s endorsement. “It is a huge compliment when commitment and work ethic is noticed by people you admire,” Sandmaier said of the endorsement.
As MNA president, she said her “door will always be open for our First Nations cousins” for collaboration “on shared and mutual priorities.”
Pimlott, who works as a community liaison for Métis Calgary Family Services and is the past executive director of the Aboriginal Friendship Centre in Calgary, told Alberta Native News he’s “had this bug” for community service since he was elected MNA vice president in 2014.
“With this new government structure, things are gonna change no matter what,” Pimlott said, identifying the transition from regions to districts as inherently challenging, with the potential for divisions to arise.
He said his priority as president would be to “work with our community members to really stabilize this new government structure.”
“I’ve met with a lot of the people that are running and I’m quite confident that we’re going to have a government that can work with this and support our community and really push forward in this transition,” said Pimlott.
He said he’s not concerned by Poitras’s endorsement of his opponent.
“President Poitras is equally a citizen and every citizen has the right to support whom they choose,” Pimlott said. “We’ve been focusing on our campaign and our direction, and not really paying attention to who’s endorsing who, because the ultimate goal is to get out to the citizens and talk to them.”
If elected, he said one of his first actions as president will be to reach out to First Nations in Alberta to talk about their common interests and how they can collaborate.
Another priority for Pimlott is to enhance relations between Métis citizens who live in settlements and those who don’t.
“You need to actually start bridging those gaps and that’s what I’m good at. That is what I thrive on,” he said.
Familiar faces running for district representative roles
Beyond Sandmaier, there are other outgoing MNA regional leaders running for the Otipemisiwak government.
Region 1 vice president Jason Ekeberg is running to be the citizen’s representative for District 19 (Lac La Biche), where he faces two other candidates — Dwayne Roth and Jerry Ladouceur.
Region 3 vice president Joe Chodzicki will be the citizens’ representative for District 3 (Red Deer) by acclamation, because he was the only candidate to step forward. Eight of the 22 citizens’ representative roles have been filled by acclamation.
Alfred L’Hirondelle, Region 4 president, is running against three other candidates — Alexander MacLeod, Gwenn Thiele and Luc Gauthier — to represent District 11 (St. Albert).
Region 6 president Carol Ridsdale is running against regional vice president Barry Dibb and Roechelle Gaudet to represent District 14 (Peace River).