Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak has inherited an organization that has been buffeted by internal strife.
OTTAWA — The emotion in the room was electric as Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak stood in a full buckskin dress to be sworn in as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa last month. In an election that ran to seven ballots, the former regional chief from Manitoba became the youngest person, the first mother and just the second woman elected to head the AFN in its 64-year history.
She also inherited an organization that has been buffeted by internal strife. Among its more than 630 First Nations are some whose members feel the AFN no longer effectively represents them. Many First Nations are divided over legislative moves in Ottawa that, critics charge, promise to advance the self-government rights of some at the cost of others. Then there was the sacking of the AFN’s previous national chief, RoseAnne Archibald, over allegations of workplace abuse, which she has denied.
Against that backdrop, Woodhouse Nepinak said only one thought went through her head as she stood at the swearing-in ceremony: She has a lot of work to do. “I’m honoured that First Nations have given me the opportunity to be in this role,” the new national chief said in an interview with the Star.
“At the same time, I know that there’s expectations that I work hard every day, that I try my best to build relationships with Canada with Canadians, even when it’s hard.”
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