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This article was published 6/11/2014 (1018 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The three candidates vying for the for national chief of the Assembly of First Nations made their pitches Thursday night.
Perry Bellegarde, Ghislain Picard and Leon Jourdain each spoke passionately and in several languages in 15-minute speeches to a crowd of about 100 gathered at the Holiday Inn Winnipeg Airport Hotel. The event was also broadcast on the web.
The national chief position was vacated by Shawn Atleo last May when he resigned.
The election will take place Dec. 10 at an AFN Special Chiefs Assembly at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg. Chiefs from over 600 First Nations are eligible to cast ballots and the new leader must win 60 per cent of the votes. The term for the national chief is 3 1/2 years.
An open microphone period followed in which members of the crowd could ask questions of the candidates.
"It’s no secret that the reality of the election, it’s a delegate-type election and not all First Nations citizens are able to vote for national chief so we thought it would be a good opportunity prior to Dec. 10 to allow First Nations citizens here in Manitoba to be introduced to the candidates and to pose direct questions to them," said Chris Henderson, the executive director of the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee of Manitoba Inc.
The committee hosted Thursday’s event.
"We believe this is an opportunity to enable the chiefs, councillors and all First Nations citizens to have some input into the priority issues for First Nations and one of those is Treaty land entitlement claims."
Bellegarde, chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, said treaty rights are a key to First Nation control over their own economic futures.
"As indigenous peoples, we have the right to self-determination," Bellegarde said. "That treaty relationship that we have, we agreed to share. Concede, surrender, relinquish, we don’t understand those words... that’s why I say one of the big things we have to push for is self-determination and to move beyond the Indian Act."
Picard has been performing the job of national chief since Atleo abruptly resigned last spring over internal opposition regarding Ottawa’s First Nations Education Act.
Jourdain, a former chief from the Lake of the Woods area, began his speech by dealing with two personal issues from his past — a drunk driving charge 15 years ago, after which he quit drinking, and a sexual assault charge 10 years ago that was dropped.
"It is very important that if we are going to get better, we have to disclose, us men, the warriors, how important it really is for any leaders to disclose your pain of what you’ve experienced in life to begin a healing process," said Jourdain, who addressed the issues of abuse from the residential school system and colonialism.
Picard’s platform reflects the need to rebuild the AFN group.
"We have a minister and a prime minister that refuse to acknowledge that we are on a new path wanting to find a way to engage government with our conditions which have not been met," Picard said, referring to the treaty relationship. "I believe in heart and strong positions."
Both Bellegarde and Picard have decades of experience at the national political level.
The AFN has a long history of advancing aboriginal issues onto the national political agenda, including the residential schools issue and the Indian Residential Schools Settlement.
A national lobby group for First Nations, the AFN has been badly fractured since Atleo’s departure. Atleo was criticized for his close ties to the federal government and his support for a federal education bill that was effectively withdrawn after Atleo’s resignation.