National Chief Perry Bellegarde agrees there’s a “perception” of political interference during voting day at the Assembly of First Nations’ election of national chief Wednesday in Vancouver.
But Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett meeting with Alberta chiefs about an hour before polls opened “didn’t have any implication or any impact on the election in any way, shape or form.”
In fact, he said it’s old news.
“We have moved on already. We have work to do,” said Bellegarde on Nation to Nation, APTN’s political show airing Thursday at 6:30 p.m. EST.
After the first ballot didn’t declare a winner three candidates gathered on the main stage demanding answers after Bennett’s meeting saying she should have been nowhere near the election.
In the end, Bellegarde was re-elected on the second ballot giving him a second term at the helm of the lobby group made up of First Nation chiefs.
Only Russ Diabo maintained the election was “tainted” in what was supposed to be his concession speech.
“I think this election is really tainted with the Crown minister being involved in the election process … this organization is basically controlled by the Trudeau government,” Diabo said as the crowd booed him.
Candidates Sheila North and Miles Richardson spoke strongly against Bennett before the results of the second ballot but didn’t address it in their concession speeches and congratulated Bellegarde.
Bennett addressed the controversy Thursday saying in no way was she trying to meddle with the election.
As for Bellegarde he just wants to keep working.
“We have momentum going on with child welfare. We have to fix that system … let’s get the work going and finish what we started,” said Bellegarde in a lengthy interview with Nation to Nation host Todd Lamirande.
“I always say ‘closing the gap’ in terms of getting the same quality of life for First Nations people as everybody else in Canada.”
That means the AFN needs to keep pushing.
“For continued investments in education and training, continued investments in housing, continued investments in ending the boil water supply, developing strategies to deal with the 40,000 children in foster care,” he said.
Bellegarde spoke about initiatives the Trudeau government is working towards like doing away with the Indian Act through the development Indigenous rights framework.
He said First Nations need to seize that framework from the feds.
“We’re not co-developing the rights reconciliation framework … the Crown is doing that on their own. We’re going to have to take control of that process and involve our people – the chiefs, the leaders, the elders, the youth, the women’s council. All of that will have to happen if we’re going to breathe life into it,” he said.
Bennett said she has been meeting with groups across the country since the spring but critics say it’s being rushed as the Trudeau government wants it completed before the October 2019 election.
“There’s only one piece of legislation that First Nations really feel good about, because it’s being co-developed – that’s the Indigenous Language Act,” said Bellegarde.
He also addressed concerns that the AFN is out of touch with people and doesn’t speak for them.
But he said the AFN is a chief’s organization.
“The chiefs represent all the people, on and off the reserve,” he said.
He added the AFN is always looking for ways to improve.