Aboriginal chiefs from across Canada are choosing their national leader as voting began early Wednesday at the Assembly of First Nations meeting in Toronto.
Incumbent Shawn Atleo, who has strong support in his British Columbia base, is in the running for a second three-year term.
Facing him is a field of seven other candidates, including two regional chiefs and four women.
Results of the first ballot are expected around 12:30 p.m. ET. A candidate needs 60 per cent of the roughly 630 votes to win.
Selecting a leader could be a lengthy process. Three years ago in Calgary, eight ballots were required for the election that saw Atleo emerge victorious.
This time around, some of the candidates running against Atleo are claiming he is too close to the federal government.
"This is a choice between rolling over and standing up," candidate Pam Palmater said Wednesday before the first ballot results were announced. "I'm standing up."
Terrance Nelso, another candidate, predicted Atleo would hit a "brick wall" in the first round.
Supporters of Atleo told CBC's Cam MacIntosh that they are confident they have enough support secured if voting goes to a second ballot.
At a leadership debate on Tuesday, all eight candidates emphasized the need for aboriginal control over their land and their lives.
"Let us get organized like never before," said Dene Chief Bill Erasmus. "Let's spell out clearly how we can take care of ourselves."
Pam Palmater, who is a Mi'kmaq lawyer and professor at Toronto's Ryerson University, said, "We know the status quo is killing our people. We're also, on top of that, having to face the most aggressive government in several generations."
Former national leader Ovide Mercredi nominated Atleo, and introduced him saying: "He is not close to government, he's close to our people … which matters more."
Quebec NDP MP Romeo Saganash was at Tuesday's gathering to hear the candidates' speeches and said he worries about possible confrontation between aboriginal groups and the federal government.
"Taking a tough stand on [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper is not necessarily the way to do it right now, in my view," he said.
With files from Jody Porter and The Canadian Press
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