By John Nagy
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
It was a “nail-biting” close vote, but when all the ballots were counted by Sunday at dawn, Michele Solomon was elected the new chief of Fort William First Nation.
The reserve’s former three-term councillor collected 325 votes to former chief Georjann Morriseau’s 313, the closest vote for the chief’s job since 2015 when Peter Collins bested Morriseau by five votes.
Solomon, who will be leaving her Ontario Native Women’s Association community development manager role to concentrate on the duties of the chief full-time, said it was a relief when the final vote was counted at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday.
“It was only a 12-ballot difference, so that was a bit nail-biting for a while during the count,” said Solomon, who was a Fort William First Nation councillor for eight years. “I was there all night. I was excited and I was happy. This is a role that I feel like I’ve been preparing for for a long time. It’s not something that I decided overnight. It’s something I’ve been working for.
“I’ve been doing a lot of work in the community, both the Fort William First Nation and the community of Thunder Bay. So, it does feel like a natural, logical progression in my political career.”
Solomon’s first order of business with council will be establishing the First Nation’s priorities, reviewing all the programs and services that the First Nation offers as well as meeting with the residents of the community.
Currently, issues facing the First Nation include the prevalent at-large dog matter and the heavy traffic pouring over the James Street Bridge and down Highway 61B into the community with the latter being of significant importance to Solomon.
“The traffic in and out of the community is very front and centre,” Solomon said. “Most of the people that I connected with on my campaign trail mentioned the traffic being a big concern and as a resident it’s a big concern for me as well.
“. . . . People come into the community for many different reasons, however, nobody wants to get stuck in traffic for half an hour, 45 minutes to get home from work. In the event of an emergency situation, that can potentially create added stress to an emergency situation.
“Trying to resolve that is important. It is something that will require dialogue between us and the City of Thunder Bay and I intend to be reaching out to the city, this week in fact, to request a meeting to discuss just that.”
In the 61-candidate councillor race for 12 positions, eight incumbents will make a return to the council chambers with Jennelle Charlie leading all councillor vote getters with 305.
Leo Bannon Jr. (279), Sheldon Bannon (266), Sherry Lynn Pelletier (203), Desiree Morriseau-Shields (188), Yvette Greenwald (156), Kyle MacLaurin (150) and Bonnie Pelletier (142) were also re-elected.
Collins, the former 10-term chief who resigned from the job in September 2022, gained a councillor job with 179 votes, while newcomers Bess Legarde (211), Jacob McKay (160) and Brian Ludwigsen (139) will make their debut on council.
A total of 2,270 Fort William First Nation residents were eligible to vote.
John Nagy/ Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/THE CHRONICLE-JOURNAL/LJI is a federally funded program