Perry Bellegarde, Assembly of First Nations’ National Chief, told Lake Babine Nation (LBN) members that Canada’s newly-elected prime minister Justin Trudeau will bring new opportunities for First Nations.
“Now we have a new opportunity with this new prime minister to do a number of things, to close the gap, strengthen First Nations communities,” he said.
Bellegarde made a special trip to Burns Lake as guest speaker for LBN’s 17th annual general assembly (AGA) on Oct. 28 at Margaret Patrick Memorial Centre.
Bellegarde was also excited to announce that this federal election was the first time he had ever voted.
“And I don’t feel any less Indian,” he said to laughter from the audience. “On the federal level I’m really happy with the change.”
He went on to say that in his opinion First Nations will always be dual citizens in Canada.
“You will always be Carrier or Cree, but you can still vote,” he said.
Bellegarde also used his time with LBN members to discuss his priorities since being elected as national chief in Dec. 2014, including Indian act reform, the national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, promoting increased consultation and engagement in economic development, relations with the Catholic Church and seeking an audience with Pope Francis, as well as fine tuning school curriculum.
Bellegarde said the intergenerational effects of residential schools caused a “breakdown of identity” to the point where young First Nations men and women were ashamed to be Indians.
“We escaped that pain through alcohol and drugs and we see it every day,” he said.
The event started with dancing in, led by LBN drummers and elders, and was followed by the Woyenne Primary School children signing traditional songs and prayers.
“It’s good to hear song and the drum and the little ones singing, because [it means] we know we survived the genocide of our people,” said Bellegarde. “We’re on that healing path, on the path to healthy communities and healthy families and that’s so powerful to see here at LBN”.
Bellegarde called the opportunity to visit with Lake Babine Nation members “a beautiful honour” after being introduced to a packed hall. As Bellegarde received a standing ovation he thanked the audience and was presented with a handmade gift from an elder.
Chief Wilf Adam called it “one of the best AGAs ever,” saying the event had wonderful guests and it included the presence of young students.
“The young students did presentations to the assembly, which was an added bonus,” he said.
The AGA invites Lake Babine Nation members once a year to attend discussions, reports on programs and services, listen to guest speakers, and participate in social nights and entertainment. The event ran from Oct. 26 to the 29, 2015.