Newly elected Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde emphasized sovereignty and First Nations consent after being voted in with 63 percent of the ballots on December 10.
“To Canada we say, for too long have we been dispossessed of our homelands and the wealth of our rightful inheritance,” Bellegarde said in his first speech as national chief, according to The Globe and Mail. “Canada will no longer develop pipelines, transmission lines or any infrastructure on our lands as business as usual. First Nations peoples will oppose any development which deprives our children of the legacy of our ancestors.”
Bellegarde, Cree-Assiniboine of Little Black Bear First Nation, received 291 votes to acting chief Ghislain Picard’s 136 and Leon Jourdain’s 35, according to CBC News. The elections were held during the AFN’s special assembly in Winnipeg. Bellegarde is a regional chief of the AFN as well as heading the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN).
"To the people across this great land, I say to you, that the values of fairness and tolerance which Canada exports to the world, are a lie when it comes to our people," Bellegarde said, according to the Canadian Press. "Canada will no longer develop pipelines, no longer develop transmission lines or any infrastructure on our lands as business as usual. That is not on."
Seen by many as the most mainstream of the three candidates—Ghislain had called the Canadian government and Prime Minister Stephen Harper “the enemy,” while Jourdain had said he would push for nation-to-nation negotiations—Bellegarde nonetheless drew the proverbial line in the sand.
"We will no longer accept poverty and hopelessness while resource companies and governments grow fat off our lands and territories and resources," he said, as quoted by the Canadian Press. “If our lands and resources are to be developed, it will be done only with our fair share of the royalties, with our ownership of the resources and jobs for our people. It will be done on our terms and our timeline. Canada is Indian land. This is my truth and this is the truth of our peoples."
He takes office at a time when the AFN is increasingly being seen as irrelevant and out of touch with the grassroots, especially in the wake of the May 2014 resignation of Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, who left office suddenly amid controversy over the First Nations Education Act.