By Lloyd Dolha
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Chief Lawrence Joseph announced his intention to seek re-election this fall. At a news conference in Saskatoon, Joseph said housing for First Nations people will be his main campaign issue. “Housing needs to be developed collectively and quickly,” he told the Star Phoenix. “Housing is way, way behind. It is deplorable.” Joseph says all options must be explored to ensure First Nations’ treaty right to shelter is honoured. That may include more private home ownership on reserves, and communities such as the Lac La Ronge Indian Band are experimenting with this model.
Joseph is proud to have helped rein in the federation’s $1.6-million deficit during his three-year term. The FSIN posted a $388,000 surplus this year. If re-elected, other priorities for Joseph would address treaty implementation, gang violence and youth suicide. As for the ongoing controversy at First Nations University of Canada, Joseph said governance reform must proceed. Studies have recommended a smaller and less political university board, which is currently dominated by First Nations chiefs. The provincial and federal governments are currently withholding funds until changes are made. “We need to depoliticize the board,” Joseph said. “It’s taken so long because the chiefs are leery of handing over control until they are certain it will be managed properly.”
Chief Reg Bellerose of the Muskowekwan First Nation has also joined the race. Bellerose is currently serving his fifth year as chief of Muskowekwan and believes this experience gives him a unique insight into how to move the FSIN forward. In an interview, he stated that the “political agenda for the chiefs and councils of Saskatchewan First Nations governments is to elevate their office” which will enable them to better serve their people. Bellerose explained, “They, as the representatives of their people, they need ministerial access. They need to access their counterparts at the provincial and federal level.” Bellerose believes a common voice speaking on behalf of all Saskatchewan First Nations is important.
For Bellerose, the two critical areas in First Nations communities are housing and training. Bellerose said the province is booming but First Nations people are being left out on many fronts. “We have the largest potential workforce in the province, but we’re getting minimal investment, but yet the provincial government will go off shore to bring in nurses, will go off shore to bring in skilled labour,” he said. “We have it right here in our First Nation communities, but we need the investment in terms of skill development and training.”
If he is successful, Bellerose has a clear vision of his focus as a leader. He believes it is important to push forward the duty to consult. Industry needs to talk with First Nations before the province grants a permit to a company. Bellerose said First Nations are not receiving a share of resources even though many of the natural resources are being extracted from traditional land. He also feels that all tribal councils should become more involved in gaming because it provides own-source revenue for communities. Bellerose also wants to see peacekeepers become more involved with reserve communities and work to improve the relationship between the RCMP and First Nations living.
Former FSIN vice-chief Guy Lonechild has also announced his intention to run for the top post and plans to focus on education and health services, as well as cultural preservation. After announcing his candidacy last year, Lonechild said that incumbent Chief Joseph Lawrence’s style of “pounding the table, making accusations, and using hurtful language” cannot continue.
The election takes place on October 19th during the FSIN assembly in Saskatoon.