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Assembly of First Nations on path to reconciliation with new national chief prioritizing children

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A new leader takes the stage. Cindy Woodhouse, who had previously been the Manitoba regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, now has the top job."We have a lot of work to do. Our people are waiting," Woodhouse said.

Getting here was difficult. No leadership candidate could get the 60 per cent majority required to win.

As voting stretched late into Wednesday night, it got heated at times—Woodhouse tried to convince her main opponent, David Pratt, to concede. The two were the last of six candidates, and traded barbs as Woodhouse tried to convince Pratt to back down.

Finally, a day later, during the seventh round of voting, Pratt conceded.

With the new national chief chosen, the AFN's attention now turns to issues within its First Nations.

Woodhouse says her first priority is taking care of children.

The mother of three is a strong advocate for children, their protection and rights.

"The child welfare system has been separating our kids for far too long. We need to push to bring our families home, together again," Woodhouse told reporters after being officially sworn in.

The AFN represents more than 600 First Nation communities in Canada, many of which are struggling. Jeff Copenance, Chief of the Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation in Ontario, told CTV National News his community is in a state of emergency.

"I think we've had approximately 32 deaths in our families just in the past two years since I've been elected chief," Copenance said.

Those deaths are attributed largely to suicides, he said, but the opioid crisis is taking a terrible toll as well.

Many chiefs say there is a need for unity despite a hard fought campaign, because the battle to deal with the pressing issues needs to happen now. Multiple chiefs agreed there is no more time to waste and too many lives are at risk.

"We leave here united. We leave here behind our national chief," Pratt told the audience of hundreds at the Shaw Centre, during his speech when he announced his concession.

Woodhouse says she is looking forward to working with all political parties and is asking for the support of all Canadians. 

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