OTTAWA — Amid rumblings by critics on social media of troubles within the ranks at the AFN — and issues raised claiming the orgs overreaching authority and misappropriating an eagle staff, National Chief Perry Bellegarde began his opening address at the Special Chiefs Assembly with a clear message: saying the AFN is more united than ever.
Bellegarde addressed the Chiefs in Assembly in Ottawa Tuesday morning, congratulating them on the advancements the AFN has made in ground work to implement the UNDRIP across Canada.
Bellegarde touted the success of his ‘Closing the Gap’ agenda aimed at equal funding throughout Canada — amending funding disparities for the life of indigenous people on reserves and on reserve infrastructure.
The two new branches of indigenous affairs were also mentioned — Jane Philpott’s Department of Indigenous Services and Carolyn Bennetts Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs oversees the multiple facets of the nation to nation relationships indigenous people in Canada are pursuing with Ottawa.
Bellegarde expressed a need for Ottawa to increase investments in education, housing, infrastructure, public welfare and band support funding — as well as an additional push for funding for indigenous policing.
The national chief also stated the AFN is working towards an Indigenous Languages Act to be implemented with the help of Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly that the organization is hoping to get passed before the next federal election.
Bellegarde also reiterated a call for AFN inclusion and at the First Ministers Meetings — something indigenous leaders have long critiqued — that Ottawa says they want First Nations engagement but merely presents leaders with seats at side tables during national consultation.
Bellegarde says “participating in a side-meeting that is separate from the main event is just not good enough. In fact, it has to change and we will push for that change.”
Other issues Bellegarde addressed are the need for supports for First Nations workers contributing to the economy, resource revenue sharing, NAFTA updates, child welfare and the crisis of MMIW across the country.
Bellegarde called for expediting to the land claims processes.