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Saskatchewan's Perry Bellegarde wins vote for Assembly of First Nations chief

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper speaks during the opening ceremonies at the Assembly of First Nations Election in Winnipeg on Tuesday, December 9, 2014.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan
December 10, 2014 - 12:31 PM

WINNIPEG - Saskatchewan's Perry Bellegarde is the new national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Bellegarde took 63 per cent of the 464 first-ballot votes cast in Winnipeg Wednesday, more than the 60 per cent required for victory.

Ghislain Picard, the assembly's interim leader, finished second. Leon Jourdain, chief of the Lac La Croix First Nation in Ontario, finished third.

"I feel very excited, very happy," Bellegarde said to reporters before being congratulated by Picard. "It's very humbling. It's time to get to work. The chiefs have spoken ... We will be making a change in Canada."

Bellegarde, who is chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, ran a campaign that focused on a pledge to restore pride among First Nations and focus on self-determination.

"Our First Nation people can rise up and have the same thing as everyone else in Canada — good housing, good quality education for our kids, jobs for our people, to make sure the land and water is respected," he said following the results.

The assembly under his leadership will "be respectful, it's going to be responsive and it's going to be relevant to First Nations people," he said.

"I believe it's a strong mandate and I'm humbled."

Bellegarde will have an extra six months added to his three-year term as the organization restructures amid questions about its relevance.

Many argue the assembly should wean itself off federal funding, while others have argued it doesn't reflect the views and concerns of grassroots people.

The AFN's top job came open earlier this year when former national chief Shawn Atleo resigned due to fallout from his support of a controversial federal act to reform First Nations education.

Ken Coates, senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute who had followed the election campaign, said opinion among First Nations is split between those who want to negotiate more rights for aboriginals and those who say treaties don't need to be rewritten, but properly enforced.

Bellegarde represents the latter, he said.

"He's more outspoken," Coates said. "He's more likely to say dramatic things."

Bellegarde has a difficult job ahead, he said.

For the first year at least, Bellegarde will have to be focused on reshaping and redefining the organization, Coates said. The political landscape for aboriginal rights has changed so quickly the assembly has to catch up.

The Idle No More movement that saw nationwide protests was as much a rejection of aboriginal leadership as it was the federal government, he said.

"The status quo is not acceptable," he said. "It's obvious people want to go in a different direction."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said the vote was Tuesday.

Image Credit: perrybellegarde.com

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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