AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde. Photo courtesy of Facebook.
AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde treaded carefully when he talked about the controversial issue of pipelines during a Special Chiefs Assembly being held in Gatineau, Quebec this week.
He applauded the victory of the Sioux Nation in North Dakota, which has stalled a four billion dollar oil pipeline, but he also encouraged individual chiefs to do what is in the best interests of their people and not to oppose for the sake of opposing.
There will be protests, many of them led by First Nations, on two oil pipelines that were given the green light by the Trudeau government this week. The most controversial is a line that runs from Edmonton to Burnaby, where the protests have already started.
The other is a $7.5 billion dollar pipeline that will run right across southern Saskatchewan, replacing an existing line.
Chief Bellegarde says the AFN takes a neutral position.
"We support rights," he said. "And the most important right we will support is that right to self-determination -- and I have always said that means the right to say yes, and the right to say no."
Bellegarde also called for a complete overhaul of the child welfare system, encouraging First Nations to lead the way. He told chiefs, "If you don’t like the federal and provincial governments taking care of Indigenous children, assume control and develop your own system."
Bellegarde also says First Nations peoples are finally making some progress after more than 150 years of oppression.
"And we are still here, and we are getting stronger, and we are getting louder, and we are getting healthier and it is providing more hope."
The Special Chiefs Assembly concludes on Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be addressing delegates this afternoon, while Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett will be the first speaker tomorrow morning.