One-on-One: Perry Bellegarde

VIDEO: ‘One of the most important rights we have is the inherent right of self-determination,’ said AFN’s national chief

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde was interviewed on stage by Danielle Bochove of Bloomberg News.

“I believe the Liberal government listened”
Bochove asked Bellegarde about reports that the government is dragging its heels on dispersing much of the $8.4 billion it promised Indigenous communities in its federal budget. Bellegarde said “I believe the Liberal government listened” when it came to issues affecting Indigenous peoples, but the mechanism for delivery was slow. To close the gap, he said, would take a five to 10 year strategy. Meanwhile, he said the chiefs are telling him “we don’t see it in the communities” yet.

“There is a growing sense of frustration”
One call to action from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been Canada’s official adoption of the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. But Bellegarde said beyond that, “there is a growing sense of frustration” that the government is “basically managing expectations right now.” He turned to the crowd and said he appreciated the invitation to the conference, saying he wanted to spread the message to business leaders that “closing this gap is really in the best interests of Canada.”

“Canada’s economy is based on land”
Bellegarde tied economic development to Indigenous property, saying “from an Indigenous perspective, Canada’s economy is based on land and resources.” The prosperity is not being shared, he argued. “There’s $600 billion worth of economic activity in Canada in terms of natural resources,” he asserted, but there was a need to develop better partnerships with Indigenous peoples right from the start.

“Try to find common ground”
Bochove asked Bellegarde how he saw criticism of Indigenous protests of pipelines as turning away investment. Bellegarde called the rules around jurisdiction a “grey area” and argued that if it wasn’t fixed, foreign investment indeed wouldn’t flow. He said the judicial branch of government, the courts, have been clear on this, awarding cases in favour of Indigenous rights, but the legislative and executive branches were not listening. Let’s “try to find common ground,” he said.

“The inherent right of self-determination”
Bochove asked Bellegarde if he thought First Nations communities have the right to veto infrastructure projects like pipelines. Bellegarde said “one of the most important rights we have is the inherent right of self-determination” which he explained as “the right to say yes, the right to say no.” When Bochove said that sounded like a veto to her, Bellegarde said it was “really not helpful to talk about that veto word, because it’s going to slow down development.” He said he simply wanted permits or licenses not to be issued without comprehensive Indigenous engagement strategies.

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