Perry Bellegarde has thrown his hat into the race to become the next chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
Shawn Atleo stepped down as AFN leader earlier this year after a number of Indigenous leaders failed to back him in his support of the Harper government’s controversial First Nations education act.
The current Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations leader says it’s time to start a new dialogue with the federal government.
“My approach in all of my history as a leader is strong and firm and respectful,” he says. “I’ve always said we’re not going to agree on everything but the things that we do agree on, let’s move these forward and let’s keep working on those things. You have short term objectives, middle range objectives and long term objectives – you’re not going to resolve these things overnight.”
Some Indigenous leaders are questioning the relevancy of the AFN these days saying it has failed to make headway with the Harper government on key issues but Bellegarde maintains the organization has an important role to play.
“The AFN has to become relevant and responsive and there’s always going to be a need for a strong, united, collective voice. We have to avoid the pitfalls of divide and conquer. We have to avoid the struggles because government will just love that, to see the Assembly break up.”
He adds the Harper government is going to need to change its stance on a number of issues if the relationship is going to work.
Some of the key planks of Bellegarde’s platform are establishing processes for self-determination including revenue sharing, establishing a new fiscal relationship with the federal Crown, immediate action on a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and revitalization and retention of Indigenous languages.
He says he will now begin using his remaining holiday time and then go on leave without pay after Nov. 4 as he begins his campaign.
Bellegarde ran and lost on the eighth ballot to Atleo in the 2009 AFN leadership election.
Approximately 633 First Nations leaders are eligible to vote in the election which will take place in Winnipeg Dec. 9-11.