Perry Bellegarde

Perry Bellegarde

Former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations

Chief Perry Bellegarde has dedicated his life to championing the rights and well-being of First Nations. For 35 years, he has held various First Nations leadership roles, including two terms served as the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). Chief Bellegarde believes passionately that at the heart of the original Treaty relationship sits a vision of peace and friendship that is the key to building a better and brighter future for Canada.

A member of Little Black Bear First Nation, Chief Bellegarde credits the wisdom shared by the First Nations Elders of Saskatchewan for instilling in him a deep sense of pride in his culture, as well as a lasting conviction that Indigenous knowledge and values are crucial to building a more just and inclusive society. He describes himself as an oskâpêwis, a Cree word meaning “helper”, and he believes this understanding of the role and responsibilities of a leader applies to many walks of life.

Chief Bellegarde has championed that vision through all his leadership roles. First, as the Tribal Council Representative for the Touchwood-File Hills-Qu’Appelle Tribal Council, and then as the Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, Councillor and Chief of Little Black Bear First Nation, and National Chief of AFN, a position he held from 2014-2021.

As National Chief, Chief Bellegarde campaigned tirelessly to close the gap in the quality of life between First Nations and other families in Canada. He led the AFN through a period of profound transformation in public awareness of First Nations concerns and priorities. Critical accomplishments include the passage of Canada’s first national legislation recognizing and protecting Indigenous languages, much needed changes in how government services in First Nations communities are funded, and securing a legal commitment to national implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Chief Bellegarde also influenced the acknowledgement of Indigenous Rights in the final Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), as a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Advisory Council. He has also raised the international profile of First Nations expertise on sustainable development, promoting rights-based solutions to the climate crisis from the Paris Agreement to the Sustainable Markets Initiative.

In recognition of his work, Chief Bellegarde has been awarded the Confederation Medal, the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal, and both the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and Golden Jubilee Medal. In 2018, he was recognized with the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, and in 2019, was awarded an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from Queen’s University. Most recently, Chief Bellegarde was named “Nation Builder of the Year” by the Empire Club of Canada and the Honorary President of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

Reconciliation and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “the framework for reconciliation at all levels and across all sectors of Canadian society.” Chief Perry Bellegarde believes passionately that once we cut through the confusion and misinformation that surrounds the Declaration, it becomes clear that this global human rights standard represents Canada’s best chance for building a new and just relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Chief Bellegarde has long championed the UN Declaration. As National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, he played an instrumental role in the 2021 adoption of new federal legislation committing Canada to fully implement the UN Declaration in national law and policy. In this talk, Chief Bellegarde shares his insight into why the Declaration matters to Indigenous peoples and all Canadians, what it means to implement its provisions, and how doing so is key to building a more resilient and sustainable world for all our children.

Chief Bellegarde says, “The UN Declaration is about Indigenous peoples finally regaining control over own lives and the future of our communities. It’s about combatting systemic racism and closing the gap in quality of life between Indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada. And it is about finding new ways to work together to share the wealth of this great country. Ultimately, I believe that this is a vision and framework that can inspire and guide all Canadians on the path of reconciliation.”