Chiefs from every First Nation in Canada will be gathering in Winnipeg December 9th-11th to select a new National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Surprisingly, lawyer Pam Palmater and Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak are not campaigning for National Chief. This year there are three candidates: Chief Ghislain Picard, Chief Leon Jourdain, Chief Perry Bellegarde.
Chief Ghislain Picard is Innu from Pessamit, Quebec. Between 1976-1989, he was responsible for communications and media relations for the Conseil Atikamekw Montagnais (CAM), serving as VP in 1989 and publishing Tepatshimuwin for the Atikamekw and Innu communities. As president of the Centre d’Amitié Autochtone de Québec, he helped develop a community radio network within his Nation and co-founded the Société de Communication Atikamekw et Montagnaise (SOCAM), which produces Aboriginal language radio broadcasts. Mr. Picard is a Knight in the National Order of Québec and was awarded the insignia of Knight in the Legion of Honour from the Consul General of France. He has held his current position as Regional Chief of the AFN of Quebec and Labrador since 1992.
Chief Picard Since was chosen to serve as Interim National Chief after the resignation of National Chief Shawn Atleo. Under Picard’s leadership, the AFNQL launched a judicial review to overturn the federal government’s Aboriginal education bill. He recently denounced the government’s decision not to call a national public inquiry into the case of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, calling it “disrespectful.” Picard opposes the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which requires expenses and salaries of chiefs and councillors to be posted online. He supports accountability but not disclosure beyond the requirements for other levels of government.
Chief Leon Jourdain is former Grand Chief of the Anishinaabe Nation in Treaty #3 and is the current Chief of the Lac La Croix First Nation in Ontario. Leading a progressive band council as a councillor and chief for 15 years, Jourdain recognized his community’s struggle with addiction and successfully maintained laws banning alcohol from his community. He negotiated a unique coexistence agreement between Lac La Croix and the Province of Ontario allowing co-management of Quetico Provincial Park and management of Crown Land for development, forming a lasting social and economic partnership.
Chief Jourdain became Grand Chief of Treaty #3 in 1999 at Naicatchewenin First Nation during a traditional selection ceremony, receiving the endorsement of all participating chiefs and councillors. He managed the Grand Council responsibly and converted a $1 million deficit to 5 years of surplus. His long-term vision of nation rebuilding moves away from the Indian Act and rebuilds the Anishinaabe Nation using traditional forms of governance.
Chief Jourdain believes that as long as the AFN continues to allow First Nations to exist under a corporate status and accept government subsidies through contribution agreements, the inhumane conditions will continue to be a way of life for our First Nations people. “Government policy will continue to rob indigenous peoples and nations of their identity and respect,” he writes in an open letter to Chiefs. “No more can we allow our political representative entities to be used as justification for symbolic consultation processes without any consideration or accommodation of our rights, interests, issues, and needs. Identity, respect, and inherent responsibility are vital to the rebuilding of our nations.”
Chief Perry Bellegarde has experience, vision, and an executable plan that will work for all First Nations communities. He served as a Tribal Council Representative for the Touchwood-File Hills-Qu’Appelle Tribal Council and was instrumental in returning the old “Indian hospital” in Treaty Four Territory to First Nations control and establishing the All Nations Healing Hospital in Fort Qu’Appelle, serving First Nations and non-First Nations people alike. He served 5 years as Chief of the FSIN and Saskatchewan Regional Chief for the AFN and was elected to the Council of Little Black Bear First Nation in 2007, serving as Chief of Little Black Bear until 2012 and leading it back from the financial brink.
During his first year as chief of the FSIN, he negotiated a 25-year gaming framework agreement that resulted in six First Nations casinos run by the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA) creating 2,000 employment opportunities, additional funding, and long-term financial stability. Chief Bellegarde accomplished this during his first year of leadership as FSIN Chief. He also served as Vice President, Labour and Aboriginal Initiatives for the Crown Investments Corporation of Saskatchewan and implemented GradWorks youth internship program.
Chief Bellegarde will establish processes for self-determination that include revenue sharing, environmental sustainability, and consulting and accommodating with prior and informed consent. He is committed to revitalizing indigenous languages and upholding indigenous rights as human rights in international forums. Chief Bellegarde also plans on immediate action for an inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. “It is absolutely essential and in the interests of all Canadians that we address and finally begin to close the long standing and unacceptable gaps between First Nations and non-First Nations people in Canada. First Nations do not seek better education; we seek the same. First Nations employment opportunities need to match those of other Canadians. First Nations health resources need to mirror those available to non-First Nations people while being culturally-based and appropriate. And First Nations must be economically self-sufficient based upon our inherent Aboriginal and Treaty rights.”