By Shayla Bradley
Perry Bellegarde is Assembly of First Nations national chief again, re-elected during the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly held July 24 to 26 in Vancouver.
Bellegarde won 328 of 522 votes in a second ballot after failing to earn the required 60 per cent of votes during the first round. Sheila North won 125 votes, Miles Richardson won 59 votes and Russ Diabo won 10 votes, while Katherine Whitecloud did not move onto the second round.
During his acceptance speech, Bellegarde said, “We might have these terms or these names like Chiefs or Grand Chiefs but if you’re taught by the elders, we’re servants and helpers for the people. We keep that in mind here on this date, in these lands.”
Bellegarde said Indigenous peoples are wondering how to move beyond the genocide of the residential school system, and the colonization of the Indian Act.
“There’s bright light when our little ones are going to pick up that torch and move forward,” he said. “This gap will be closed. Better housing, better education, better health care and yes, lands and resources coming back to First Nations people because we know it’s assumed crown sovereignty; it’s assumed crown jurisdiction, and we’re going to get that back in our rightful place in this land. That’s what I see; that’s my vision. That’s my hope and we need to work together to do that.”
The presence of Crown-Indigenous Relations minister Carolyn Bennett during the vote created controversy. According to Bennett’s office she was invited by Alberta Chief Marlene Poitras to hear regional concerns, and the office said she did not interfere with the national election. The other four candidates for regional chief questioned the integrity of the process with Bennett present.
“There will be consequences for the way you voted,” Diabo said during his concession speech, to boos from the audience. “You can boo all you want but with Minister Bennett coming here and directly interfering in this election… I think this whole election is really tainted with the Crown minister being involved in the elections process, meeting with chiefs’ caucus before the election began; you can object to that all you want but it reinforces what I’ve been saying about how this organization is basically controlled by the Trudeau government.
“I’m saying to the people who are watching, it’s clearly up to you now because this organization is not going to reform itself. It’s going to have to happen from the outside.”
Other challengers called for unity during their speeches.
“Don’t let the government treat you like children,” said North. “I resolved myself to be happy, to be grateful and to be satisfied with whatever the results are of this election.”
“Congratulations Perry, and I hope that you will have a successful reign in the next three years.”
“I might not agree with everything about the way the assembly of First Nations is organized or how different participants or institutions function, but I do accept that it is the process we have established amongst ourselves as First Nations and institutions in this country,” said Richardson. “I say with absolute sincerity… those who are casting the votes, in this case the chiefs of this country, are never wrong.”
Richardson said he would commit to working together with Bellegarde for the benefit of all AFN’s people.
Following the election, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler congratulated Bellegarde, saying, “He is a strong advocate for First Nations with our federal treaty partner and has supported our leaders and communities in times of need throughout his first term. National Chief has received a solid mandate, and we look forward to working with him and the Assembly of First Nations to advance the interests of our Nations at the federal level. I also acknowledge all of the candidates for their dedication to advancing the interests of First Nations and for issues they have raised during this campaign.”
NAN will invite Bellegarde to address Chiefs and Assembly at the XXXVII Keewaywin Conference August 14 to 16 in Chapleau Cree First Nation.
Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald also extended congratulations, saying, “The chiefs from across this country, having many diverse platforms to choose from, selected a leader whom they felt best represents their interests nationally. Working collaboratively, we can achieve positive resolutions to our common issues, while collectively holding a vision of vibrant, safe and prosperous communities with happy children and healthy families.”
“I offer my support to the re-elected national chief, as I believe that by embracing change, harnessing our strengths and working in unity, we will create a better quality of life for all First Nation communities in Ontario. With new and renewed mandates, the National Chief and the AFN executive can use this momentum to create positive change for First Nations people and communities,” she concluded.