APTN National News
Assembly of First Nations national chief candidate Perry Bellegarde is questioning the timing of an Idle No More founder’s decision to raise “old myths” about his role in the Saskatchewan government’s decision to force off-reserve status First Nation people to pay provincial taxes 14 years ago.
Sylvia McAdam, one of the founders of Idle No More, wrote to Bellegarde Wednesday asking him to explain his role in the 2000 decision by the NDP provincial government to end the provincial tax exemption for status First Nation people.
Bellegard led the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) at the time.
“I still do not understand how this came about and who consented to it,” wrote McAdam, in her letter. “At the time we were paying taxes, you were the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief.”
Bellegarde told APTN National News that the NDP government at the time, headed by Roy Romanow, unilaterally imposed the tax without consulting the FSIN.
“There was no involvement of my side of this. I was not aware the NDP government was going to unilaterally change the policy, overnight,” said Bellegarde. “There was no consultation or consent. It was made without any dialogue.”
The FSIN filed immediate court action against the Saskatchewan government as a result, arguing the tax breached their treaty rights. Successive leaders, however, did not follow up, said Bellegarde.
Bellegarde said he’s been dogged by the “myth” he was in on the NDP government’s plans for years, but he never tires of refuting it.
“I am happy to be a slayer of old myths,” said Bellegarde. “We have more important issues to deal with.”
Bellegarde said he questioned the “timing” of McAdam’s question.
“Look at the timing of it all and then you question the sincerity of dealing with the issue,” said Bellegarde. “She could have asked this seven or eight months ago.”
McAdam said the timing has everything to do with the election.
“Why not now?” said McAdam. “If he is uneasy about questions…maybe he shouldn’t be running for AFN chief.”
McAdam said she wasn’t speaking for Idle No More, but as a descendant of Treaty 6. She said her great-great-grandfather Saysewahum took adhesion to Treaty 6 in 1878.
McAdam said she is worried that First Nation leaders are too willing to take a deal at the expense of rights.
“I am concerned, as a treaty person, that whoever is going to be speaking to these has to be strong enough to understand that these treaty terms and promises cannot be surrendered or extinguished,” she said. “From the looks of things, half of the chiefs who are sitting at the termination tables are doing exactly that and I think all of us should be asking questions and demanding answers.”
The Ontario government kept the exemption for status First Nation people in 2010 when it brought in the harmonized sales tax. Queen’s Park faced sustained pressure from Ontario First Nations.
Bellegarde said Ontario chiefs had a heads up it was coming, which made all the difference.
Bellegarde said his accomplishments overshadow the Saskatchewan tax issue.
“I get things done at every level and I’ve demonstrated that. At the community level, local level, regional level, national, international level and I bring that experience, dedication and commitment to our rights, to bring about a change. That’s what I bring,” said Bellegarde. “I am very transparent, open and accountable.”
The AFN election will be held in Winnipeg next week.
Former interim AFN national chief Ghislain Picard, whose base is in Quebec, is also a candidate, along with former Treaty 3 grand chief Leon Jourdain.
Bellegarde Memo on Saskatchewan tax issue from 2010