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AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde Brings Indigenous Concerns to World Leaders—Including U.S.

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The inclusion of Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde and other aboriginal representatives in the official Canadian delegation to the United Nations climate talks known as COP21 brought indigenous environmental concerns directly to world leaders in an unprecedented way.

"I feel like we have a seat at the table," Bellegarde told CBC News as the conference was kicking off on November 30. "Now the work begins, after COP21, devising that strategy going forward, working with the federal government, provincial governments and indigenous leaders to do that in a comprehensive and collaborative basis."

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During two days at the summit, Bellegarde met U.S. President Barack Obama—a moment immortalized in a photo snapped by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—and gave a speech at the talks, in addition to participating in meetings of the summit's caucus of Indigenous Peoples from all over the world, CBC News said.

Bellegarde’s place at the table appears to be right in line with campaign promises made by Trudeau, a Liberal elected in October and sworn in on November 4. He vowed to include First Nations, Inuit and Métis in efforts to learn about, reverse and mitigate climate change, saying they play an integral role in caring for the earth.

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“It is notable that the Prime Minister recognizes us as Indigenous Peoples with all the rights articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and that he understands that Indigenous Peoples and our traditional knowledge are essential in finding solutions to combat climate change,” Bellegarde said in an AFN statement. “We are the first to feel its effects, and our voices and recommendations must inform the path forward. We fully expect that the final treaty negotiated here will reflect that.”

Just before the conference Bellegarde sat down with Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna and chatted about his hopes and aspirations for the meetings.