Jerry Fontaine

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Jerry Fontaine is an Anishinaabe politician in Manitoba, Canada. He was chief of the Sagkeeng First Nation from 1989 to 1998, led the First Peoples Party in the 1995 provincial election, and was an unsuccessful candidate to lead the Manitoba Liberal Party in 1998. He was the director of Indigenous Initiatives at Algoma University from 2004-2008.

Fontaine is the nephew of Assembly of First Nations leader Phil Fontaine.

Early career[edit]

Fontaine received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Manitoba in 1976.[1] He first campaigned for the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba in the 1986 provincial election, contesting Lac du Bonnet as a Liberal. The Liberal Party was a weak electoral force in Manitoba during this period, and Fontaine received 959 votes (11.33%). The winner was Clarence Baker of the New Democratic Party.

Sagkeeng chief and FPP leader[edit]

Fontaine became chief of the Sagkeeng First Nation three years later, and led the community until 1998. During his tenure as Chief, Sagkeeng developed the First Nation's constitutional declaration. This declaration facilitated the Manitoba Hydro Accord, a process that enabled the community to mitigate erosion damages caused by Hydro development and enforce its jurisdiction over its traditional territory. The constitutional process mandated the First Nation's Law-Making Assembly to pass two important pieces of legislation in relation to the Hydro Accord: the Process Law and Conservation Law. He was a supporter of local gambling rights, and launched a private prosecution against the Pine Falls pulp mill in 1995 for violations of the Water Rights Act.[2] By his own admission, he destroyed his Liberal Party membership in 1994 when the Canadian government of Jean Chrétien relaxed anti-pollution standards in the area near his community.[3] Fontaine became a prominent spokesman for Manitoba's First Peoples Party (FPP) later in the year and was generally recognized as the nascent party's leader, although it is not clear if he held an official position.[4]

The FPP was created following a 1993 resolution of the Assembly of Manitoba chiefs that advocated a political party focused on aboriginal issues.[5] The party argued that all native peoples in Canada have an inherent right to self-government and that the country's traditional political parties were not addressing aboriginal concerns.[5][6] Fontaine emphasized that the FPP was open to all Manitobans, not simply those of aboriginal background.

The party ran three candidates in the 1995 provincial election, all of whom were defeated. Fontaine ran a credible campaign in the vast northern constituency of Rupertsland, but received only 541 votes (12.22%) for a fourth-place finish against New Democrat Eric Robinson, who is also aboriginal. The FPP ceased to exist after the election.

In 1998, an investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation raised allegations that a separate aboriginal-issues party called Independent Native Voice (INV) had been set up by Progressive Conservative organizers to take votes from the New Democratic Party in marginal constituencies. A commission led by Judge Alfred Monnin ruled that these organizers had induced at least one candidate, Darryl Sutherland, to run. The FPP was not implicated in this scandal.[7] In the year the scandal broke, Fontaine informed the media that Sutherland had approached him late in the 1995 campaign to acknowledge that Conservative organizers provided him with funds. He encouraged Sutherland to take his story to the press, although Sutherland rejected this advice at the time.[8] Fontaine has asserted that "the Tories took advantage of Aboriginal individuals who weren't all that involved in political issues or political life", and argued that the incident was symptomatic of the way aboriginal voters are sometimes treated by mainstream parties.[9]

Liberal leadership campaign[edit]

Fontaine rejoined the Manitoba Liberal Party after the FPP's dissolution, and became a candidate for the party's leadership in 1998 following the resignation of Ginny Hasselfield. He was 42 years old at the time. His candidacy was organized by Ernie Gilroy, and won support from figures such as Terry Duguid and Graham Dixon.[10] Fontaine emphasized that he was not a protest candidate, and his campaign did not focus exclusively on aboriginal issues. Initially regarded as the frontrunner, he lost to former Member of Parliament Jon Gerrard by 1336 votes to 832 in a mail-in ballot open to all party members. He was not a candidate in the 1999 provincial election.

Wing Construction[edit]

During the 1998 leadership contest, Fontaine was served with a $100,000 lawsuit from Wing Construction Limited, which had previously received a contract for school construction in Sagkeeng.[11] Wing Construction argued that the Sagkeeng council had not turned over promised funds, and asserted that the company was left to sustain a loss of three million dollars.[12] The federal government later determined that the Wing contract had not been formally approved by the Department of Indian Affairs, and the company was forced into bankruptcy protection in 2000. Fontaine characterized the personal lawsuit as "frivolous", and was later described as saying that the company had overstated the value of its work.[13] Others have disputed this, and Alan Isfeld of the Waywayseecappo First Nation argued that the collapse of Wing Construction created a potentially destructive precedent for aboriginal/non-aboriginal partnerships in Canada.[14]

Separate from the Wing Construction controversy, some members of the Sagkeeng first nation accused Fontaine of inadequate on-reserve housing in 1998.[15] He resigned as chief following a series of protests, saying that he needed to devote all of his attention to the leadership contest.[16] He later defended his financial record against what he described as a "continued siege by government and media alike".[17]

Since 1998[edit]

From 1998-2003, Fontaine served as Senior Advisor to the Pine Falls Paper Company. During this period he facilitated negotiations between the Pine Falls Paper Company (PFPC) and participating Anishinaabe Nations in the development of a partnership agreement between the PFPC and Anshinaabe Nations.

During the period, 2003-2005 Fontaine became active in the development of the Treaty 1 Protection Office that included the following Treaty 1 First Nations (Brokenhead, Long Plain, Peguis, Roseau River, Sagkeeng, Sandy Bay and Swan Lake). Treaty 1 was signed August 3, 1871.

Fontaine was one of three candidates seeking the leadership of Manitoba's Southern Chiefs Organization in June 2003. He finished third, receiving only two votes out of 31 cast.[18]

In 2005, Fontaine served as an adviser to AFN leader Phil Fontaine and promoting education within Canada's aboriginal communities.[19] He has argued that aboriginal communities should have control over First Nations post-secondary institutions.[20]

He was chosen as interim president of the First Peoples National Party of Canada, a federal party similar to the FPP, in 2005.[21] He continues to serve as FPNP president as of 2006. Fontaine was an administrator at Algoma University, where he worked as Director of Indigenous Initiatives.[22]

While in the capacity of Director, Indigenous Initiatives, Fontaine also served as Sessional Lecturer. (Algoma University, Laurentian University and Shingwauk Kinoomage Gamig)

Fontaine received a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from (European University, Paris, France) (2000), Master of Arts (MA) from the (University of Manitoba) (2009) and is currently completing his Indigenous Studies (Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario).

Electoral record[edit]

Manitoba general election, 1995: Rupertsland
Party Candidate Votes % Expenditures
New Democratic Eric Robinson 2,249 50.80 $22,077.00
Liberal Harry Wood 1,018 23.00 $25,182.52
     Progressive Conservative Eric Kennedy 619 13.98 $8,427.91
     Ind. (First Peoples Party) Jerry Fontaine 541 12.22 $14,852.48
Total valid votes 4,427 100.00
Rejected and discarded ballots 22
Turnout 4,449 44.83
Electors on the lists 9,924

Manitoba general election, 1986: Lac du Bonnet
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
New Democratic Clarence Baker 3,903 46.12
     Progressive Conservative Darren Praznik 3,601 42.55
Liberal Jerry Fontaine 959 11.33
Total valid votes 8,463 100.00
Rejected ballots 17
Turnout 8,480 73.94
Electors on the lists 11,469

All electoral information is taken from Elections Manitoba. Expenditure entries refer to individual candidate expenses. Fontaine was elected Chief of the Sagkeeng First Nation in 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1997.


  1. ^ Dan Lett, "Liberals grooming aboriginal leader", Winnipeg Free Press, 24 April 1998, A1.
  2. ^ Randy Turner, "Gamblers swarm palace", Winnipeg Free Press, 26 June 1993, City Page [gambling]; Kevin Rollason, "Sagkeeng chief charges mill", Winnipeg Free Press, 28 April 1995, City Page.
  3. ^ David Kuxhaus, "Fontaine feels he can mend fractured Liberal party", Winnipeg Free Press, 25 April 1998, A6.
  4. ^ David Roberts, "Manitoba natives form own party", Globe and Mail, 29 November 1994, A4; Lett, "Liberals grooming aboriginal leader".
  5. ^ a b "Aboriginal party in Manitoba would be open to all", Financial Post, 30 November 1994, p. 6.
  6. ^ Kelly Taylor, "Native North shops for any port in a storm", Winnipeg Free Press, 24 April 1995, City Page.
  7. ^ "The 1999 Michener Award Winner", The Michener Awards Foundation Archived 2005-03-14 at the Wayback Machine., accessed 2006.
  8. ^ Paul Samyn, "Prominent native leader tells of discussions in 1995", Winnipeg Free Press, 3 July 1998, A4.
  9. ^ "Filmon to testify at alleged election-rigging inquiry", The Manitoban, 18 November 1998, accessed 2006.
  10. ^ Kuxhaus, "Grits pick Gerrard as their saviour", Winnipeg Free Press, 18 October 1998, A1; Kuxhaus, "Fontaine feels he can mend fractured Liberal party".
  11. ^ Kuxhaus, "Liberal leader hopeful faces lawsuit", Winnipeg Free Press, 2 October 1998, A1.
  12. ^ Paul Barnsley, "Partners battle over school construction", Windspeaker, April 2000, accessed 2006.
  13. ^ Alan Isfeld, Letter to the Editor, Grassroots News, 28 January 2004, accessed 2006.
  14. ^ "Government manipulation", Windspeaker, January 2001, accessed 2006.
  15. ^ Stevens Wild, "Sit-in at Sagkeeng protests lack of houses", Winnipeg Free Press, 27 August 1998, A3.
  16. ^ Rollason, "Chief's quitting heartens protest", Winnipeg Free Press, 2 September 1998, A6.
  17. ^ Jerry Fontaine, "Sagkeeng siege unwarranted", Winnipeg Free Press, 12 March 2001, A7.
  18. ^ "In Brief", Winnipeg Free Press, 27 June 2003, A6.
  19. ^ "Aboriginal-Education", Broadcast News, 15 April 2005, 04:11 report.
  20. ^ Anne Kyle, "First Nations should control their own education: national chief", Regina Leader Post, 15 April 2005, A5.
  21. ^ First Peoples National Party of Canada: Interim Executive, Minutes of the October 20th meeting held at the Shingwauk University, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, accessed 12 October 2006.
  22. ^ Algoma University: Administration, accessed 11 March 2007.

All electoral information is taken from Elections Manitoba. Expenditures refer to individual candidate expenses.

Preceded by
Ken Courchene
Chief of the Sagkeeng First Nation
Succeeded by
Ron Fontaine