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Bellegarde acknowledges past, speaks of future

By Frank Flegel

09/21/2016

REGINA — He spoke for about an hour, without referring to notes. He was animated and passionate, and easily quoted dates, treaties, the Indian Act, and milestones in Parliament important to First Nations.

Chief Perry Bellegarde, chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), was the guest lecturer for the eighth annual Moving Forward Together lecture sponsored by the University of Regina and its federated colleges: Luther College, Campion College and the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv).

“It’s about bringing everyone together and working collaboratively,” he said of the lecture series. It was held Sept. 12 in the FNUniv atrium. He was also the last speaker in a three-day FNUniv 40th anniversary celebration: FNUniv was formerly the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC).

The celebrations included speakers, workshops, an art project and an announcement of a capital fund-raising project to construct a memorial for every student who attended a residential school.

Bellegarde’s talk emphasized seven points: implementing the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women; implementing the TRC calls for action; removing the two per cent funding cap; stressing education and funding education properly; a federal law review; revitalizing Indigenous languages and finding ways beyond the Indian Act.

He took his audience through the various stages of federal and Crown actions that led to the treaties and what the treaties meant. He said he would acknowledge the past in his lecture but not dwell it, and he would talk about the future.

He talked about resources: “We agreed to share this much (showing about a foot deep) land and no deeper than that,” and the Crown recognized Indian lands, said Bellegarde. “99.8 per cent of the land has been taken up and only about .02 per cent is left to First Nations.” Residential schools and all that took place in them was described and he asked “do you really think you’re going to be healthy coming out of that?”

The Indian Act and the residential schools really hurt us, he said. “The biggest challenge is the Indian Act, but things are starting to move, slowly.” He briefly described the controversy over his initial statement not to vote but changed his mind after consulting with his people. “I voted for the first time,” and he noted that some First Nations ran out of ballots and he warned the government, “if you want to stay in power you have to listen to us.”

Canada’s indigenous people have reason to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, said Bellegarde. “Despite colonialism, residential schools, assimilation, we’re still here,” he shouted, which drew a round of applause from the audience. He ended with a plea: “Make room in your heart, your soul and your spirit for reconciliation. The next 150 years are going to be better.

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