WINNIPEG — The Assembly of First Nations’ new leader, Perry Bellegarde, hopes to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa as early as next week.
In an interview Thursday, the day after his decisive first-ballot win that crowned him national chief, Bellegarde said he’ll be in Ottawa from Monday to Friday as part of his transition into the AFN’s head office.
“We have processes in place and we are reaching out . . . I’ll be in Ottawa all next week and we’ll be opening lines of communication (to the Prime Minister’s Office),” Bellegarde told the Toronto Star.
“As I’m hopeful that I’m reaching out, I’m hoping that the Prime Minister’s Office also reaches out,” he said, adding his time in Ottawa would be an “ideal” opportunity for a discussion.
During a news conference Wednesday after his win, Bellegarde told reporters “if you don’t engage in any kind of dialogue with the prime minister, or this government, or this cabinet, you’re not going to be able to change things.”
Bellegarde didn’t get into specifics of what might be discussed, but federal funding of the AFN, education and schools for aboriginal children, the economic state of First Nations people in Canada, treaties, and access to the revenues from resource extraction, are among the issues that are being talked about currently by First Nations leaders and community members.
Bellegarde says he’s in the process, with his staff, advisers and regional chiefs on the AFN, of putting together a 100-day plan for going forward as national chief.
Among his priorities are “moving beyond the federal Indian Act” and moving toward the rebuilding of First Nations communities.
Another of his key priorities will be continuing to push for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. In the meantime, a one-day roundtable discussion on the subject involving provincial premiers, the AFN and the federal government is being planned for February in Ottawa.
Bellegarde says he doesn’t see this as a replacement for a national inquiry but the roundtable could be “a step in the process of reaching that ultimate goal.”
He’s not sure what the terms of reference and mandate of the roundtable are at this point.
“What are the expectations regarding outcomes from the roundtable? Will it look at some of the root causes regarding violence against indigenous women? Will there be calls for more housing, calls for greater daycare services?”