By Kate Porter · CBC News · Mar 27, 2023 (Used with Permission.)
Greg Sarazin has been elected chief of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation for a three-year term, promising to mend divisions in the community and to listen to the concerns of those both on- and off-reserve.
The election held Saturday saw a very close race with Sarazin taking 245 votes. He defeated outgoing chief Wendy Jocko, who received 232 votes, and long-time councillor Jim Meness, who came third with 230 votes.
Pikwakanagan, which is located 147 kilometres west of Ottawa on Golden Lake, saw 723 of 2,099 eligible voters cast ballots. Despite the close race, there won’t be a recount as the band’s election rules stipulate a defeated candidate must request one within 24 hours and must have lost by less than 10 votes.
Sarazin, who was born and raised in the community, owns two businesses there and teaches courses in building canoes from birch bark. He was chief from 1987 to 1989 and was the chief negotiator for the Algonquin land claim from 1991 to 2001. He also ran for chief in the 2020 election, but lost to Jocko.
Final negotiations for that modern-day treaty remain a key concern for the community. Pikwakanagan is the only federally recognized First Nation of the 10 communities that form the Algonquins of Ontario (AOO) — the organization negotiating the land claim. An agreement-in-principle was signed in 2016, but has not been ratified.
The six elected councillors and chief of Pikwakanagan form not quite half of that negotiation team.
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At an all-candidates meeting during the election, Sarazin said he wanted the land claim negotiations to continue, but felt the AOO and Pikwakanagan had differing interests and the chief and council needed to take direction from the community itself.
He said there had been a lot of strife, and community members had been “silenced” and not able to attend or have a say in community meetings.
Thirteen people ran for the role of councillor, and six were elected: Don Bilodeau, Sherry Kohoko, Cathy Bernard, Vicky Two-Axe, Merv Sarazin, and Dale Benoit.
The new council’s term of office began Monday.