APTN National News
In just over a week, chiefs from across Canada will converge on Winnipeg to decide who will be the next national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
They’ll have three choices – Perry Bellegarde, Leon Jourdain and Ghislain Picard. One of them will need about 300 votes to win and the chiefs are the people who decide.
The people, or the grassroots, don’t get to vote for national chief so APTN National News took questions to the candidates for them.
Today, we hear from Jourdain, who was an unexpected candidate vowing to fix what critics say is a fractured AFN.
APTN: Why do you want to become National Chief?
LJ: I want to become National Chief so our Indigenous People can re-organize from the ground up and we can begin that journey toward becoming fully functioning autonomous Nations. It is critical that we reorganize and refocus our systems. The AFN under my leadership will still play a vital role in the political arena but in the strict capacity of being a facilitator, coordinator and negotiator for our member nations in which the multitude of diverse issues, concerns and objectives are heard, addressed and resolved to the optimal benefit of our tribal citizens.
APTN: What effect is funding cuts having on the AFN`s ability to lobby for First Nation interests, essentially where`s the money going to come from to get the job done?
LJ: The funding cuts are obviously working to the benefit of the colonial governments and resource extraction-based corporations who are relentlessly circumventing our rights, titles and their constitutional obligations by limiting our capacity to be heard in the appropriate and fair venue. Any other group whose constitutional rights are being contravened would be justly accommodated by both government and industry but we are being ignored by everyone. We must refocus our collective efforts but also utilize the courts and exert our rights in all available processes to achieve what is endemically needed in our communities.
APTN: How will you work with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or whoever wins the next general election?
LJ: As National Chief, I will work toward creating the nation-to-nation negotiating processes which are enshrined in the constitution through the recognition of treaty and Aboriginal rights which allowed for the creation of this country and will meet with the colonial governments as an partner rather than a subordinate taking direction or accepting a take it or leave it deal as has been happening. We have many laws and the Canadian legal system which we must not hesitate to invoke to attain what is rightfully owed to us by Canada. Whether it is a Conservative or Liberal government in power in Ottawa, the position we must stand fast on is the nation to nation partnership and I will negotiate with any colonial leader as is their constitutional obligation to do so.
APTN: To your critics, the AFN is fractured and unworkable. What will you do to unite the organization and make it effective?
LJ: As I lay out in my vision, over time the fractures will disappear and the AFN secretariat and political office will be more focused and processes streamlined so the decision making process made at the tribal membership level and carried forward is not lost nor diminished working their ways to the appropriate levels for implementation. We may seem divided to outsiders but in reality, our Indigenous nations are spread out across our homeland like an open hand in times of peace and tranquillity. But when our people, our nations and our ancestral rights are threatened, that open hand closes up into a fist and we stand united and stand fast in protecting and enhancing our rights and that will never change for as long as the sun shines, the grasses grow and the waters flow.
APTN: The chair of the Specific Claims Tribunal wrote in a report that if it doesn’t get more resources it will fail. What will you do?
LJ: The current land claims processes are all set up for the Indigenous nations to fail and are under the control of the defendant (Canada) in each case who is the judge, jury and executioner who delay, deny and deflect any responsibilities. All these systems must be revisited and a true collaborative and properly funded process created to expedite all land claims while preserving all inherent indigenous and treaty rights and future interests of our Indigenous nations with adequate environmental protection provisions to protect Mother Earth for future generations.
APTN: What are you going to do with the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act?
LJ: This unilateral government legislation must be reviewed and an education framework will be renegotiated using the mandatory true nation-to-nation agreement which must be invoked for both our nations to sit down and work out the details of them providing the proper funding for our peoples education based on both need as education is both a treaty and Aboriginal right and their constitutional obligations to do so. Education is a birthright which must not be denied to our tribal citizens and future generations.
APTN: Chief’s salaries are a big topic at the grassroots level. For example, should a chief make $400,000 a year when 80 per cent of his or her band members live on $400 a month, should there be limits?
LJ: All processes of accountability and transparency must be decided at the community level by the people, for the people with the people and not by an advocacy organization like the AFN, nor by the government of Canada. It must be kept in mind that due to diversity of our nations, the one size fits all legislations continuously imposed by Canada are only control by fiscal extortion mechanisms which fail and we must create our own unique and distinct systems in which each individual community determines who is in power, for how long and what they are paid and to whom they are accountable. We do not set the outrageous salaries for federal and provincial elected officials or heads of their departments so why should they set ours?
APTN: What do you want to see accomplished after your term in office?
LJ: I want to see our Indigenous peoples and nations well on the road to self-sufficiency with our tribal citizens, especially our children walking the road of life with pride, joy, respect and hope for their future living in healthy, nurturing and positive environments from which they can thrive and enjoy the standard of living enjoyed by mainstream society surrounded by respect and recognition of our special place in our ancestral homeland known globally as Canada. Only then, can I accept the fact that I have fulfilled a small part of the sacred obligation each and every one of us owes our Indigenous nations, past, present and future!