June is National Indigenous History Month. It is a time for all Canadians — Indigenous, non-Indigenous and newcomers — to reflect upon and learn the history, sacrifices, cultures, contributions, and strength of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people. Throughout the month of June, we will profile Indigenous people, and share their stories and voices, so that we can celebrate the difference they have made in their communities and to our country.
June 21: Today, we celebrate Chief Perry Bellegarde
National Chief Perry Bellegarde is originally from Little Black Bear First Nation in Treaty 4 Territory in southern Saskatchewan.
He has served as Tribal Council Representative for the Touchwood-File Hills-Qu’Appelle Tribal Council, Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and Saskatchewan Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations, as well as Chief and Councillor for the Little Black Bear First Nation.
He was elected the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in 2014. He was re-elected AFN National Chief for the second time in 2018.
Bellegarde tells CityNews about the most important lesson he has learned as AFN National Chief:
“Meaningful change requires daily action on your vision, followed by perseverance — lots of perseverance,” he says. “There are always naysayers eager to tell you what can’t be done, what isn’t possible for your people. But you can never give up. Persistence in the face of adversity is your best friend. First Nations people have survived and overcome so many obstacles through sheer determination.”
Bellegarde campaigned on his proven track record as a fierce Indigenous advocate focusing on closing the gap in quality of life between First Nations people and Canadians. He defends First Nations Treaty rights and says he is someone who can work with all federal political parties.
Bellegarde shared the one thing he hopes non-Indigenous people would learn about the Indigenous people of this country:
“While we are generous, we place enormous value on integrity and respect in our relationships with others, with other nations. Respect, and caring for others lies at the heart of the Treaty relationship. The core values of the Treaty relationship are the opposite of exploitation and a winner-takes-all mentality. At the very least, take the time to know our world view. It teaches that all human beings are related and have responsibilities to each other as well as the natural world.”
Bellegarde has spent the past thirty years putting into practice his strong beliefs in the laws and traditions instilled in him by many Chiefs and Elders. He has been recognized many times as a First Nations leader. He has been awarded the Confederation Medal, the Saskatchewan Medal and the Queen’s Jubilee Medal on two separate occasions. He was awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit by the province this year.
As many Canadians seek to understand what they can do to take important steps towards reconciliation, we are hearing more people asking about land acknowledgements and how to recite them. When asked what advice he has to give on land acknowledgements, Bellegarde offered this advice:
“The short answer is: it’s good to do land acknowledgements. They are a formal acknowledgement of our presence as nations and that First Nations land rights can never be extinguished. They are also symbolic of the work that is not yet done: to address outstanding land rights issues, to protect the environment and to share the resources from the land, to ensure no one is in need. Delving into the meanings of names in each respective Indigenous language reveals important information about lands and Indigenous peoples’ relationships to lands. Land is part of reconciliation. But so are investments in education, healthcare, housing and infrastructure.”
As Canadians reflect on current events and as they hear more about the racism being faced by Indigenous people in this country, we are hearing the term ‘ally’ more than ever.
Bellegarde explains how Canadians can be true allies to Indigenous people:
“To be an ally is like friendship – you provide support, when asked, and without imposing. And a great place to start are the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Help us work toward them,” he says.
“The Calls to Action are a comprehensive plan for every Canadian, every government, every sector of Canadian society. To be allies for change, people can press governments to implement the Calls to Justice of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry. Keep the pressure on governments. Insist that policing and justice systems value Indigenous lives as much as non-Indigenous lives. All lives matter when Black and Indigenous lives matter. If Canadians want to act, simply send an email to your Member of Parliament or to your provincial Premier’s office to say there must be change, there must be action on the countless recommendations governments have sitting on their shelves. More simply, it’s about making space in your minds and hearts to see us as real human beings worthy of respect and kindness. Just treat us, and everyone for that matter, with the same respect and human kindness they expect themselves.”
Click here to more about National Chief Perry Bellegarde and the Assembly of First Nations.
Click here to read the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.