National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations said he won’t seek re-election as the head of the organization next summer, saying he has spent his six years in the role helping bring Indigenous issues to the forefront of Canadian public life.
“Issues and concerns that we used to talk about only among ourselves, around the kitchen table, are now out there in the media every day, at the centre of public debate,” Bellegarde said in a series of tweets Monday.
Bellegarde, who has served in the role since 2014, said he has successfully advocated for laws protecting Indigenous children and languages as well as a new bill to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. His advocacy has also helped to secure more than $27 billion in new funding, he said.
He said these achievements should inspire Indigenous leaders to continue pressing for better lives for Indigenous people.
“We must reach out to our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters who understand that there can be no reconciliation without transformation,” he said. “We need to mobilize our allies in government — no matter what party they belong to — who have the courage (and) conviction to support change.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa Monday that Bellegarde has been a tireless leader and advocate for First Nations.
“I am joined by people across the country in recognizing and celebrating his years of devoted service to First Nations communities,” Trudeau said.
“We will continue to work with the national chief to advance the priorities identified by First Nations, including keeping First Nations communities safe from this pandemic,” he said.
‘Excited and anxious’
Bellegarde said he will address the chiefs at their general assembly, which is being held virtually this week after it was put off last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I will be both excited and anxious, but most of all, proud of the work we did together,” he said. “We still have lots of work to do, so let’s fight together for First Nations’ priorities right to the end.”
Before becoming national chief, Bellegarde, 58, served as the AFN’s regional chief for Saskatchewan and the chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. He was also a councillor and a chief of the Little Black Bear First Nation in Saskatchewan.
The national chief is elected every three years to lead the AFN, a political advocacy organization that represents more than 600 First Nations in Canada.
At its general assembly, which begins Tuesday, the AFN is set to urge the government to address inequities faced by First Nations during the pandemic and to support safe and high-quality education, health-care resources and infrastructure, among other issues.
Trudeau will deliver remarks Tuesday and respond to questions from the chiefs.
Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald said this year’s meeting will be different.
“It’s online. It’s during a global pandemic and First Nations are being affected by COVID-19 at disproportionate rates than everybody else,” she said in an interview, although added there will be familiar elements too.
“Many of the issues are still the same ongoing issues we’ve been facing for four decades for First Nations.”
The organization is expected to create the First Nations veterans’ council to promote the recognition of contributions of First Nations military and RCMP veterans in Canada through education and to develop and maintain a database of First Nations veterans.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook-Canadian Press News Fellowship, which is not involved in the editorial process