Perry Bellegarde, the current National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), today launched his campaign for re-election with a commitment to Chiefs to maintain momentum while redoubling efforts on measures to close the gap in the quality of life for First Nations peoples.
“I am firmly committed to ensuring that the Assembly of First Nations continues to focus on being an effective advocate on the issues that most directly impact the lives of First Nations people. Closing the Gap remains my top priority, just as it was when the Chiefs elected me National Chief in 2014,” said Perry Bellegarde. “In the past three and a half years, we have achieved real momentum, with almost $17 Billion committed to Indigenous priorities in the last three federal budgets. That’s unprecedented. A total of $3.3 Billion was committed to on-reserve education in the 2016 Federal Budget. And $1.4 Billion for child welfare is now reaching First Nations. Work is proceeding on the development of a law that will revitalize, reclaim and maintain our First Nations languages. And finally, the federal government has committed to pass a law to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That, I believe, represents substantive progress.”
“But there is much more that needs to be done,” adds Bellegarde. “The well-being of First Nations people is at stake and nothing is more important to me than that.”
Bellegarde notes that the Indigenous Languages Act must be passed, and the AFN will continue to press ahead on that.
Upholding the right of First Nations to define their own path to self-determination, without interference or control by the federal government, is a top priority. He will also continue advocacy at the United Nations to achieve recognition of First Nations within the UN system as peoples, with the same participatory rights as member states. A new relationship with the Crown must be developed in a manner that treats First Nations as governments in fiscal matters. Additionally, the use of our lands for development can only be on the condition that First Nations benefit thoroughly with the guaranteed inclusion of Free Prior and Informed Consent. Nothing short of that is satisfactory. And, as always, we need to maintain a constant and sharp focus on Closing the Gap. To accomplish this aggressive agenda, the Assembly of First Nations needs to remain a highly effective advocate, building on recent momentum.
Perry Bellegarde’s leadership experience, as a Chief, as a Tribal Council and then Treaty area representative, plus as a Regional and now as National Chief, has been key to successfully navigating the political and legislative environment, enabling him to lead the AFN in achieving specific goals that make a positive difference in the lives of First Nations. Other Chiefs agree with that assessment.
Chief Marie-Anne DayWalker-Pelletier of the Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan, who was recently honoured for being the longest-serving Chief in Canada by the Assembly of First Nations, stated, “As National Chief, Perry Bellegarde has made the Assembly of First Nations a more united and effective organization for our Chiefs. His dedication, his tenaciousness, and his thorough understanding of the priorities – both nationally and right at home on our First Nations – enable him the balance to achieve results.”
Chief Wilf Adam of Lake Babine Nation in British Columbia said, "Perry Bellegarde is a very effective leader who brings people together. That degree of unity is exactly what we, as First Nations, need as we deal with so many significant issues that affect our people – language preservation and revitalization, rights implementation, education and health – the list goes on. Perry Bellegarde delivers and we need him to keep going.”
Chief Ron Ignace, also from British Columbia, and Chief of the Skeetchestn Indian Band, sees Perry Bellegarde as a National Chief who opens doors for First Nations, stating, “This is the first National Chief who has brought the sitting Prime Minister and federal cabinet ministers to our AFN assemblies, and to speak with the Chiefs, on a consistent basis. Perry Bellegarde’s ability to set up these direct discussions has had many positive effects. Not the least of these is the ongoing co-development of an Indigenous Languages Act. This is an historic moment for all of us as we revitalize and protect one of our most precious aspects of nationhood - our First Nations languages.”
Chief Patricia Faries of Moose Cree First Nation in Moose Factory, Ontario added, "I am supporting Perry Bellegarde because he has created such great momentum for First Nations people. He has been able to get a lot accomplished because he knows what it means to be a Chief, and he understands the issues our people are facing right across the country. We still have so much work to do to rebuild our Nations and I fully trust Perry Bellegarde to work on our behalf and to get the investments we need for our peoples.”
Chief Roger Augustine, AFN Regional Chief for New Brunswick & Prince Edward Island, concluded, "Perry Bellegarde has been a tireless advocate for First Nations peoples for many years. He has worked diligently to have our Inherent Rights and Treaties recognized and implemented, and to ensure our people take their rightful place throughout our ancestral lands and waters. His unique ability to adapt and develop relationships with all levels of government, establishes him as the optimal leader of our people at the national level.”
"Through our concerted efforts, and by uniting rather than dividing, we have achieved substantial progress, but as long as “the gap” remains, we have much more work to do," concluded Bellegarde.