Perry Bellegarde has reclaimed his seat as national chief for the Assembly of First Nations, in an election that also saw his challengers accuse the federal government of interference.
Bellegarde won 328 of the 522 votes in a second ballot, giving him just over the 60 per cent needed to be elected as leader for a second term.
Bellegarde, who is from the Little Black Bear First Nation in Treaty 4 territory in Saskatchewan, has said his close relationship with the federal government has secured billions of dollars in new funding for Indigenous issues over the last three budgets. He has been criticized by other candidates for being too cosy with Ottawa.
In his acceptance speech, Bellegarde said Indigenous communities from “coast to coast to coast” are united by the drum. He said he’s heard a call from people across the country who want answers to common questions that he will attempt to address as chief.
“How do we now as Indigenous peoples, First Nations peoples, move beyond these two things that have created havoc in our lives? How do we move beyond the genocide of the residential system now? How do we move beyond that? And how do we move beyond the colonization of the Indian Act and exert ourselves as nations?” Bellegarde said.
Sheila North of Manitoba won 125 votes, Miles Richardson of B.C. won 59 votes and Russ Diabo of Quebec won 10 votes.
Katherine Whitecloud of Manitoba was eliminated in the first round of voting for having the fewest number of votes.
The vote in Vancouver sparked some controversy, as all four of Bellegarde’s challengers claimed election interference by the federal government because Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett was at the convention during the vote.
“Our four candidates are standing together to make sure at least the integrity of our decision(-making) political process is protected and honoured amongst our people. We do not condone the interference of the federal government, and anyone who does should be accountable to this assembly,” Richardson said.
North said Bennett’s presence represented a “disgusting display of interference” and a direct attack by the Liberal government on the assembly, while Diabo called for the minister to be sanctioned.
“This is what we’re talking about, running our own affairs. We don’t need the federal government to interfere in our elections,” she said.
Both North and Richardson said they accepted the election results in their concession speeches, while Diabo said there would be consequences — a statement that was met with boos from the audience.