Cathy Merrick elected as 1st woman to lead Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs

A woman will lead the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs for the first time in its nearly 35-year history.

Chiefs in the province chose Cathy Merrick as the advocacy group’s next grand chief Wednesday.

Seven candidates were vying for the position during a byelection after the organization removed previous leader Arlen Dumas over sexual harassment allegations.

Merrick won on the second ballot with 37 out of 59 votes during the organization’s annual general assembly in Winnipeg.

“I will work hard for our people … I will work hard for our nations to be represented in the assembly,” she said shortly after being declared the winner.

Merrick is a councillor and former chief of Pimicikamak Cree Nation, also known as Cross Lake, in northern Manitoba.

Cathy Merrick hugs a supporter after she was elected the new grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, winning in a 37-22 vote over George Kemp on the second and final ballot Wednesday. (Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs/Facebook)

She told chiefs that history was made with Wednesday’s election.

“You should all be proud. I’m the first woman chief for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs,” she said.

George Kemp, a lawyer and the former chief of Berens River First Nation, came in second with 22 votes.

Newly elected Grand Chief Cathy Merrick, second left, of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs greets people shortly after First Nations chiefs in the province voted her as the next leader of the advocacy organization. (Brittany Hobson/The Canadian Press)

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs represents 62 of the 63 First Nations in the province. A total of 59 chiefs or proxies took part in the vote.

During an all-candidates forum Tuesday, Merrick said her priorities are affordability for elders, addressing violence in First Nations and seeking justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and men.

Pimicikamak Cree Nation Chief David Monias supported Merrick in her run. He said the community is proud of her.

“I know you will do great things to support and empower First Nations citizens across the province,” he said in a statement.

Cathy Merrick was surrounded by supporters when she became the grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs on Wednesday. (Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs/Facebook)

Premier Heather Stefanson also congratulated Merrick on her win.

“As grand chief, she will provide great leadership in this important role, advocating on pertinent issues and advancing the priorities of Manitoba First Nations,” Stefanson said in a statement.

“I welcome this new chapter and am optimistic and excited about the future of our province and growing the relationship and collaboration between the Manitoba government and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs under the leadership of Grand Chief Merrick.”

Merrick is to serve in the role until July 2024.

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