The unofficial campaign for the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations has already started, even though the election won’t be held until July.

Incumbent Chief Perry Bellegarde has been chief for the last three years, and he wants to continue in that role, with what he calls the momentum that has started.

“I would be humbled and honoured if the chiefs of Canada elect me for another term,” he said.

Bellegarde says the federal government’s commitment to the First Nations portfolio has increased from $8.4 billion two years ago, to a promised $11.8 over the next five years. He says that money will help close the gap, provide extra money for education, social programs, policing, housing and more, but he says his job is not done.

“I believe we have things moving in the right direction, but we are not done yet. You know we have a huge socio-economic gap that we have to close,” he said.

On the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, which has been plagued by resignations, internal squabbles and harsh criticism from some First Nations leaders, Bellegarde warned against what he calls, “lateral violence.”

“You know, we ourselves as First Nations people, instead of pointing the finger out towards everybody else, let’s point it at ourselves first. Are we healthy inside as human beings? Do we carry kindness, love and respect, and all those things our elders taught us? That is what I was referring to,” he said.

Bellegarde says if the inquiry needs more time to complete its work, its mandate should be extended. He says it has gone through some rough times, but it is also accomplishing what it set out to do.

Bellegarde has been criticized for being too cozy with the Liberal government. He maintains he has a good working relationship, but says he can and will work with any government that is in power.

“I get along with all the leaders, the only card I carry right now is a status card,” he said.

Bellegarde was elected AFN chief in December of 2014. He will be up for re-election this July. In the last vote, there were three candidates in the running, with Bellegarde winning on the first ballot, taking 63 per cent of the vote.

The AFN represents 634 First Nations across Canada, including 74 in Saskatchewan.

(PHOTO: AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde. Photo courtesy of the AFN.)