04/29/15 Canada 2020 – First Nations, Fiscal Equity & Resource Sovereignties: The Path to Closing the Development Gap

on May 8, 2015

National Chief Perry Bellegarde

Assembly of First Nations

Canada 2020
Key Note Address 

April 29, 2015
Chateau Laurier, Drawing Room
Ottawa, Ontario


Click here for the pdf version


We are a couple of years away from Canada’s 150th anniversary. What change could come about between now and 2017 for First Nations, and for our relations with Canada, to make that occasion one First Nations can truly celebrate? 

Our relationship with Canada has been challenging and the path forward more difficult than it needs to be, but there is always hope and opportunity for positive change. 

When things look rough, hope and determination allow us to find that overlooked opportunity, that new way of looking at a situation, and ways to connect with activists, visionaries and leaders to make things happen for those most in need. 

As First Nations people come out of the shadows of the residential school experience, we look forward with anticipation to the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. First Nations know that we are at an historic turning point. 

As a national leader, I see a path to hope and well-being for First Nations children and youth; and I see a path to positive change in relations with Canada. 

The positive change we are driving towards is closing the gap between First Nations and the rest of Canada on all the important indices of social and economic development. 

To win that change, First Nations are daily asserting our fundamental rights as peoples in our territories. 

We will use the resources we have – our people, our languages and cultures, our values, our hard work and our lands and resources – to get what we need, to sustain ourselves and to prosper once again. 

To be a part of that change, federal and provincial governments also have work to do. 

Fiscal Equity and Closing the Gap 

My first point focuses on the gap in well-being between First Nations and the rest of Canada, and what needs to be done about it. 

The work that lies ahead for First Nations – the first order of government – and our younger Treaty partners, the federal and provincial governments requires a common understanding of our Treaty relationships. 

The spirit of our Treaty relationships is one founded in the equality of peoples, not the domination of one people by another. That spirit is now reflected in international human rights law which expresses the connection between human rights, development, land, resources, security and equality between peoples. 

We need to renew the spirit of equitable sharing and caring for one another that is the essence of the Treaty relationship. A first order of business is to create the fiscal mechanisms that will implement the sacred commitments Treaty partners undertook as peoples to share this land. 

Fiscal transfers between federal and provincial governments, between regions and between First Nations and the Crown are part of the bond that holds us together in Canada, which binds us as peoples sharing the benefits and resources of this land and respecting one another. 

At the moment, these systems do not result in equity for First Nations – far from it. 

Unlike the fiscal base for services provided to people living off reserve, First Nation governments must manage many core services from health to infrastructure and to education and child welfare through discretionary program funding that has no legal protections. 

Since 1996, Finance Canada has maintained an arbitrary 2% cap on spending increases for core services. This is one‐third of the legislated 6% increase that most Canadians will enjoy through the Canada Health Transfer for example. Since 2006, provincial governments have, on average, increased their investments in their citizens by 4 to 10% annually. The significant gap in development outcomes for First Nations relative to Canada overall is therefore not surprising. 

The First Nations chapter in the Alternative Federal Budget[1] captures the problem well: “Current transfers to First Nation governments are conditional, inflexible, inadequate, unpredictable and arbitrary.” 

We are caught in a system that has First Nations administering our own poverty. And when our people flee this entrenched fiscal discrimination, to live in urban centres, the results of decades of fiscal and economic oppression are visible for all to see; and the responsibility of the federal government is downloaded to provincial governments. 

The statistics reveal the results of decades of fiscal inequity:

  • One in four children in First Nation communities live in poverty. That’s almost double the national average.
  • First Nation children, on average, receive 22% less funding for child welfare services than other Canadian children.
  • Suicide rates among First Nation youth are five to seven times higher than other young non-Aboriginal Canadians. 

In the face of this reality, the 2015 Federal Budget is clearly another costly and missed opportunity to develop a comprehensive approach to closing the gap between First Nations and other communities in Canada. 

In 2011, the Auditor General expressed profound disappointment that “a disproportionate number of First Nations people still lack the most basic services that other Canadians take for granted”.  

The Auditor General went on to note the negative impacts of current unstable funding arrangements in these words: “The use of contribution agreements to fund core government services and ongoing program obligations (such as health care or education) leads to poor stability from year‐to‐year for planning and program delivery; creates problems in timing of release of funds and its continuity; inhibits accountability to First Nation citizens; and leads to onerous reporting.”[2] 

There are two basic problems: first the status quo of chronic, conscious underfunding regardless of need or equity; and second, First Nations governments are funded like NGOs rather than governments that are part of the constitutional fabric of this country. We should be as much a part of intergovernmental transfers as provincial and territorial governments. 

The result is a lack of certainty for planning and ongoing social crises fuelled by chronic underfunding. Inadequate, inappropriate funding arrangements have created systemic inequalities. The development gaps between Canada and First Nations will continue so long as the current fiscal arrangements continue. This is the essence of the equality rights case made before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal by the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada. A decision from the Tribunal is expected any day.

Child welfare services is just one example of how progress on social and economic development for First Nations is blocked by the lack of fiscal capacity to allow proper long-term planning and implementation of those plans. Put at its simplest, the 2% cap represents a lock on First Nations poverty. 

The international community is taking note of Canada’s structural inequalities in its relations and treatment of First Nations. Respected human rights bodies are drawing the connection between gross socio-economic disparities on the one hand and grave human rights violations on the other. 

We saw this in March of this year, when the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women concluded that Canada is committing grave human rights violations in failing to address the systemic discrimination that maintains entrenched poverty; and these human rights failures are a key factor fueling the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights came to similar conclusions a few months prior. 

For those who cannot relate to the fact that the rule of law absolutely requires the implementation of our rights in ways that closes the gap, then I urge you to consider the business case. 

Maintaining First Nations in poverty is a situation where ‘cheap’ is expensive over the long term. If we close the education and employment gap between First Nations and other Canadians, First Nation workers would add $400 billion to Canada’s GDP by 2026 and Canada will save $115 billion in government expenditures. 

So – what must we collectively do? 

Establishing an equitable relationship of sharing requires the federal government and First Nations to work on fiscal arrangements that will ensure all First Nations communities have basic government services on par with other communities in Canada. This is a fundamental human right and obligation in a country as rich as Canada. 

Good governance requires the delivery of essential government services such as infrastructure, education, health services, potable water, child welfare services, fire and policing services to ensure healthy and safe communities. First Nations communities do not have access to anything near the level and quality of government services that other Canadians enjoy. 

Many Canadians may not realize that the federal government has the same responsibilities for the delivery of essential services to our communities that provincial governments have for theirs. Unfortunately, there is no overall federal strategy or plan to work with First Nations to close the gap in living conditions and well-being – as we saw again in Budget 2015. 

In recent years, the United Nations Human Development Index has ranked Canada as high as 6th or 8th in the world for living standards, while First Nations would fall to a rank in the neighbourhood of 63 or lower. The government’s own community wellness index reveals that the comparative position of First Nations to the rest of Canada has barely changed in over 30 years.[3] 

Almost two decades of underfunding has created living standards that remain well below the average that Canadians enjoy. It is First Nations children who pay the highest price of this fiscal oppression from the day they are born; and that must stop. 

A new fiscal arrangement must acknowledge that the current starting point for most of our communities is way behind other Canadians in terms of well-being and general living standards. 

A new fiscal arrangement must include significant catch-up investments with escalators that have a relationship to the realities of population growth, geography and other relevant factors. 

We must end the punitive and discriminatory underfunding of First Nations communities.

Treaty, Revenue Sharing and Resource Sovereignties 

My second point is that renewing the Treaty relationship in a broad sense means advancing progress on resource benefit agreements and on revenue sharing arrangements between the Crown and First Nations in each Treaty and Aboriginal title Territory. 

The first constitutional documents are the Treaties that began before Canada was created and which remain sacred commitments to share as equals. 

To establish a country that includes First Nations as equal partners will require fiscal arrangements with provincial and territorial governments that reflect the spirit of the Treaty relationship – whether expressed in the older Treaties or the newer agreements on land and self-government. 

Adhering to the spirit and intent of Treaty means that Canada cannot unilaterally renege on its commitments in modern “land claims” and self-government agreements. Lately it has been doing so in the most blatant way by imposing legislation that contravenes constitutionally protected rights to engage in joint decision-making through jointly designed and agreed-to mechanisms. 

In the case of older Treaties, resolving issues of Treaty interpretation will require some common sense re-ordering of Crown attitudes, a recognition that the extinguishment clauses (written in English and typically sent after the verbal discussions and Treaty were made) are a fraud. 

The very notion of extinguishment is a violation of our fundamental human rights as peoples. And let me clarify – there was no extinguishment of our land rights. No one would say – here take my land and give me next to nothing to live on. 

International human rights law recognizes the fundamental rights of all Indigenous peoples to sustain ourselves and to use our resources to prosper in our own lands. Our right to govern ourselves as peoples and to benefit from the resources in our lands is a fundamental human right. It cannot be extinguished. 

Many of you have probably noted the mounting number of victories by First Nations in the courts. These are all the more impressive because we have accomplished this in a system our governments don’t even control. That says a lot about us that is good; and a lot about Canada that is good. 

There has been much discussion, but also fear, in response to our victories in cases like Haida Nation and Tsilhqot’in. I am going to speak to that fear today. 

There is a recalibration of power that is taking place, a shift in power relations that is seeing First Nations restored to a place of equality as peoples with both pride and sovereignty. 

That change is nothing to be afraid of. It is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to take the hand we have extended in peace for generations and join us in re-building our communities. 

At the international level, there is guidance about what it means to work in peace with Indigenous peoples as equals, rather than as threats or as peoples to be dominated. 

The United Nations has confirmed that under international human rights law First Nations as Indigenous peoples hold a right to self-determination that includes development rights in our traditional territories. 

Article 32 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples says, in part: “Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.” 

Our inherent rights as peoples have been confirmed by the UN – not created or granted – but rather recognized as existing human rights that are collective, pre-existing and non-extinguishable. 

So what does all that mean? 

The legal landscape tells us that Canada cannot have the development it seeks without us. Trying to contain this conversation within unilaterally designed federal and provincial regulatory frameworks does not work. It is also clear that Crown efforts to design policies and machinery of government to manage its consultation and consent obligations are insufficient. Governments are still trying to align themselves with the requirements of the 11 year old decision in Haida Nation. Policy and operational practices continue to be a good decade or more behind the jurisprudence because the Crown continues to try to manage us as clients rather than negotiate with us as peoples. 

For the benefit of all Canadians, federal and provincial governments will have to recognize the reality of 2015 – that there is shared sovereignty in this land – shared between First Nations and federal and provincial governments. Shared sovereignty, shared resource benefits, shared resource revenues. 

We are not a third order of government or a municipal form of government. We are the first sovereign peoples of this land and we continue to be the first holders of this land.

Shared sovereignty means we will no longer tolerate being treated as “claimants” in our own lands. What we hold is what the Creator gave us. We do not hold “grievances”, we hold this land. 

The 638 communities and the more than 50 nations encompassed by the Assembly of First Nations have seen the worst and are ready and primed to roll back the tired old ways of thinking.

We are resuming control. We are re-asserting jurisdiction over our lands and resources.

We are ready for meaningful consultation with the Crown on major policies and legislation. The obligation of the Crown to consult with First Nations on major pieces of legislation affecting our rights as peoples was recently confirmed by the Coutoreille (Mikisew Cree First Nation) decision of the Federal Court. Our environmental values and our notions of how to balance development and environmental protection and sustainability are part of this country and it is time we were listened to.

We are ready to do business with the business sector and we are ready to work with federal and provincial governments at all ministerial level tables – energy tables, economic development tables and education tables.

Canada needs to get this right – First Nations need to get this right! First Nations are no longer willing to sit on the side of the road watching rocks, minerals, forests, and other natural resources taken from our territories while our communities struggle. Ensuring all opportunities and benefits of resource development are fully shared with First Nations is a theme whose time has come.

Canada has suffered an economic depression a few times in its history – measures were taken to help alleviate the pressures of those times. Most recently we saw programs to promote economic stimulus. First Nations have been in a long-term economic depression that has left most of our communities in a state of poverty. The foot print it has left in our communities is unmistakable – the gap is felt by our very young to our elderly. 

Canada, provinces, territories, and First Nations need to come together to build a more inclusive Canada and a strong and honourable future for this country. To be successful, we need to work together on systems, policy, and new agreements, and to consider how revenues are shared, and how resources are developed. 

There is also important work to do to build capacity and educate our young people. This brings me to my third point. 

Education, First Nations Development and Hope 

What must First Nations do to advance our development agendas – at the national level and in each Treaty and title territory? 

We must instill hope in our children and youth that things can and will change; that we can make change happen through collective and individual action; and by being who we are. 

We are the entrepreneurs, the teachers, the environmental and resource managers who care for the land, the Elders and spiritual advisors, the activists, the hunters, the medicine people. 

The resurgence of First Nations culture and political activism is as high as it has ever been since we first experienced colonialism. 

A critical part of this change is being brought about through the education of our children and our youth, by First Nation teachers. 

Our Treaty rights and our right to self-determination include the right to develop, manage and maintain our own education systems. “First Nations Control of First Nations Education” remains the foundational principle supporting First Nation Education and it is the litmus test by which we assess any education proposal. 

Since the 2% cap on education funding was first implemented in 1996, it has created an historical funding shortfall totaling more than $3 billion for First Nations across Canada. 

This inequity is holding us back and must be addressed by a new fiscal framework accompanied by standards and accountability – but not with management or oversight by the Department of “Aboriginal” Affairs. 

The fact that a political agreement to address education reform fell apart does not mean that Canada and First Nations should stop trying. 

We must re-engage; and there must be a process that recognizes and supports regional and local diversity and that respects our Treaty rights and our inherent rights as peoples. 

Over the past six months or so, the National Indian Education Council (NIEC) and the AFN Chiefs Committee on Education (CCOE) developed a First Nation Education Work Plan. 

In December 2014, Chiefs-in-Assembly approved, for further discussion and development, a framework for a federal act for funding First Nation Education and for advocacy on First Nations education issues. 

The draft Framework is restricted to defining what the Federal responsibilities are in relation to funding First Nation Education. 

First Nations understand the need for education reform and that standards and accountability mechanisms are tied to funding. First Nations are doing this work. What First Nations won’t accept is for crucial elements to be dictated by a federal department with no First Nations education expertise. 

Where adequate resources have been provided to First Nations, great work has been done in places like Kettle and Stony Point First Nation as well as the Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey in Nova Scotia. First Nations students have proven that if they are given equal resourcing and the quality of education provided other students in Canada they can achieve at the same or even exceed provincial rates. 

While success isn’t only about money, funding is absolutely crucial for First Nation Schools to offer a quality education that values our cultures and languages. One only needs to look at the funding level for provincial French minority language schools which receive more on average than their English counterparts to see what appropriate funding levels are required when a language is under threat. The vital role of First Nations culture and language in the curriculum is evident in the success stories in First Nation education such as that of Akwesasne. 

When discussing education and the need for a broader understanding of First Nation issues we need to work with provinces and territories to ensure curriculum includes First Nation culture and history. I would like to acknowledge those jurisdictions that have already embarked on this very important work. In partnership with Manitoba, First Nations have developed an education toolkit that is being aligned with Manitoba curriculum. The roll-out is planned for the fall. 


As National Chief, one of my key priorities is to close the gap in well-being and living conditions that exists between First Nations and the majority of Canada. It is obvious that without significant investments in First Nation education and other critical supports such as housing, potable water and viable effective child protection programs, closing the living standards and wellness gap will be elusive. 

Fiscal funding inequities are a cap on First Nations’ potential; and therefore on Canada’s potential. 

When defining economic development objectives on reserve, or off, meeting the education needs of First Nations children and youth must be included in that discussion. Without educated citizens and an educated work force, our communities will continue to struggle to realize their economic development objectives. 

The path to change, to healthy, vibrant First Nations communities lies in holding up our First Nations youth. Instilling hope in their futures lies in rebuilding within our own communities. That is the responsibility of First Nations leadership. 

Rebuilding the relationship between First Nations and Canada, including fiscal relations, is a joint responsibility. 

Our young people are eager and waiting, our Elders and teachers are ready to lead, our entrepreneurs and our land managers are ready to work. 

We reach out our hands to our Treaty partner and say – let’s get to work and build a stronger Canada for all of us!

[1] The First Nations chapter of the Alternative Federal Budget (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) was developed with the support of the Assembly of First Nations. 

[2] June 2011 Status Report of the Auditor General of Canada, 

[3] Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, The Community Well-Being Index: Report on Trends in First Nations Communities, 1981-2011 (April 2015)  (“The CWB gap between First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities is substantial. In 2011, the average CWB score for First Nations communities was 20 points lower than the average score for non-Aboriginal communities. This gap is the same size as it was in 1981.”)

read more
Assembly of First Nations04/29/15 Canada 2020 – First Nations, Fiscal Equity & Resource Sovereignties: The Path to Closing the Development Gap


on May 4, 2015

Federal Budget 2015

The Conservative government tabled its federal budget on April 21. This Bulletin provides an initial assessment and analysis and a brief overview of the budget items of interest to First Nations. 

The bottom line is that this federal budget is a missed opportunity – a missed opportunity to develop a comprehensive approach for change for First Nations and Canada.  There is no significant investment and no plan to close the gap in the quality of life between First Nations and Canadians.  For First Nations, this budget is mainly re-announcements and minimal renewals, most at reduced funding levels. 

This is a status quo budget and the status quo is unacceptable.  We know first-hand the urgent needs: more than 120 First Nations communities that do not have safe drinking water, on-reserve high school graduation rates of only 35%, more children in state care than at the height of the residential schools, over-crowded housing and the need for more than 130,000 housing units on-reserves. 

We are attaching a summary of the announcements and areas that require further analysis.  I do want to provide some information on First Nations education. 

Funding for First Nations Education

You will recall that in February 2014 the Prime Minister announced $1.9 billion for First Nations education.  The funding, however, was tied to Bill C-33, the so-called First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act.  First Nations overwhelmingly rejected that flawed legislation, but we all agreed that investments in First Nations are urgently needed.  In November 2014, the government confirmed $500 million over 7 years for First Nations schools.  This amount comes from that original $1.9 billion, leaving $1.4 billion earmarked for First Nations education.  This federal budget announces as well the renewal of $200 million over 5 years, starting in 2015-16, in the Strong Schools Successful Students Initiative. 

The AFN pushed to ensure the $1.4 billion for First Nations education does not get re-allocated or re-profiled to other departments or for other uses.  Federal officials did confirm to AFN officials that the amounts budgeted for First Nations education are still in place and can still be invested in First Nations education. 

I will be meeting with Minister Valcourt in the coming month to urge him to do the right thing and resume discussions with the AFN about a mutually acceptable approach that will ensure the release of these much needed resources for First Nations schools. We are all fully committed to ensuring First Nations control of First Nations Education and an appropriate legal framework to support that goal in keeping with the direction of Chiefs-in-Assembly. I will keep you informed through all steps of this urgent matter. 

In the wake of the 2015 federal budget, my overall message to the government and Canada is this: First Nations were not meant to be poor in our own homelands.  This same government issued the apology for residential schools but, as we approach the final events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we are seeing no action to give life to those words.  We are calling for action, investment and collaboration on a real strategy for change.  We will continue to push for change and progress with the public sector, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. 

United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, April 20 – May 1

I attended the fourteenth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) on April 27-28 (the UNPFII ran from April 20 – May1).  While there, I had the privilege and responsibility to deliver a statement on behalf of a wide range of Indigenous peoples’ organizations and human rights groups from across Canada and around the world. 

The statement calls on all countries, including Canada, to ensure that their laws and policies are consistent with international human rights standards set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  We spoke the hard truth that too many states, including Canada, claim to respect Indigenous rights while putting in place laws and policies that undermine those very rights.  We called on all States to uphold the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to work with Indigenous peoples to ensure all laws are consistent with the Declaration. 

The full statement is available on the AFN website at:

We will continue to keep you informed on the outcomes of the UNPFII and all developments that our peoples and our Nations.




  • (renewal) $215M over five years to Skills and Partnership Fund, and $50M ongoing
  • (new) $33.5 over five years for “administrative support” for Aboriginal labour market programs and to launch a pilot on-reserve labour market survey
  • (new) $30.3 million over five years for the expansion of the First Nations Land Management Regime to create further opportunities for economic development on reserve
  • (renewal) $200 million over five years, starting in 2015-16, in the Strong Schools, Successful Students Initiative to help support First Nations to achieve better education outcomes, including building partnerships with provincial school systems 
  • (renewal) $12 million over three years to Indspire to provide post-secondary scholarships and bursaries for First Nations and Inuit students.
  • (ongoing) $2 million per year ongoing for mental wellness teams in First Nations Communities.
  • (~11M new) $33.2 million over four years starting in 2016–17 to support the Surveys on Aboriginal People (of which $22.3 million will be provided from existing AANDC, ESDC and HC funds)
  • (ongoing) $170 million per year will be provided to First Nations to support the construction, rehabilitation, and renovation of affordable housing on reserves and to enhance the management of the housing stock through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada

$ amounts in millions








Aboriginal Labour Market Programming







Investing in Aboriginal Communities







First Nations Land Management








Improving First Nations Education
















Sustained Support for Mental Health Services in First Nations Communities








Surveys on Aboriginal People










  • $150 million over four years, starting in 2016-17, to allow cooperative and non-profit social housing providers to prepay long-term, non-renewable mortgages held with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation without penalty.
  • Federal Support for Affordable Housing: reaffirms the Government’s commitment to ensuring low-income families and vulnerable Canadians in need have access to affordable housing options.
  • Contributing to the Safety of Energy Transportation Infrastructure: $80 million over five years, starting in 2015–16, to the National Energy Board for safety and environmental protection and greater engagement with Canadians.
  • $135 million over five years, starting in 2015-16, to continue to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of project approvals through the Major Projects Management Office Initiative.
  • Affirms the Government’s intent to provide accelerated capital cost allowance (CCA) treatment for assets used in facilities that liquefy natural gas.
  • $34 million over five years, starting in 2015-16, to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to continue to support consultations related to projects assessed under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.
  • $210 million over four years, starting in 2015-16, to support activities and events to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.
  • Enhance support to Child Advocacy Centres across Canada for youth victims of violence.
  •  $75 million over three years, starting in 2015-16, to continue to support the implementation of the Species at Risk Act to protect Canada’s diverse species and secure the necessary actions for their recovery. 
  • $2.0 million in 2015-16 to the Pacific Salmon Foundation to support the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project.
  • $10 million per year for three years, starting in 2016-17, to the Recreational Fisheries Conservation Program to support the conservation of recreational fisheries across the country.
read more
Assembly of First NationsNATIONAL CHIEF BULLETIN May 2015

Presentation to The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security – Bill C-51

on March 12, 2015

Bill C-51 is the subject of a great deal of commentary and controversy.  First Nations have a long history in this country of dealing with laws that threaten our rights so we are always on guard against any legislation that could affect our rights, our citizens and our traditional territories. 

The key issues at stake in Bill C-51 are the State’s power to place individuals or groups under surveillance, to monitor their everyday activities, to create criminal offenses that affect our ability to exercise our legally recognized rights, and the overall relationship of State power to fundamental human and Indigenous rights. 

On these issues, First Nations have expertise and hard experience to offer this Committee, the government and Canadians as a whole. 

First Nations people are often forced to take a stand against actions or initiatives by governments that refuse to respect or protect our rights.  These activities are often deemed “protests” when in fact we are only calling on Canada to obey its own laws, which include the recognition and affirmation of inherent Aboriginal rights and Treaties in Canada’s own Constitution. 

So at the core of this discussion for First Nations is the unfinished business of balancing federal and provincial laws and authorities with the inherent jurisdiction and sovereignty of First Nations.  At its core, this discussion is about reconciliation – reconciling Canada’s claims to sovereignty with our pre-existing rights, title and jurisdiction, and Canada’s Treaty obligations. 

We need to finish that work.  It is the way forward.  But until we do, First Nations as individuals and as nations will assert our fundamental civil and political rights.  We’ve had to do this many times in the past in the face of a history of imposed, oppressive laws – laws that we are always told are good for us and good for Canada.  But in fact they were outright attacks on our identity and our rights. 

We have suffered under laws that banned our cultural and spiritual practices, laws that denied our right to vote, laws that prevented us from going to court to fight for our rights, laws that gave the State the power to steal our children and assault their minds and bodies, to try and kill our languages and traditions.  We have been subjects of surveillance and suspicion, and seen as a threat for as long as this country has existed.  Why?  Because our cultures, values and laws place a priority on protecting the lands and waters, they place primacy on sharing and sustainability.  Canada knows that our existence as peoples and nations qualifies and calls into question its claims to absolute sovereignty.  But our people survived and prevailed over all the assaults against us because our ancestors and Elders stood up for our people and our rights. And this generation is not going to forsake our ability to protect our lands and territories and rights that has ensured our survival. 

We will continue to assert our inherent sovereignty and sacred responsibility to protect the land and the waters.  We have the right to be decision-makers in any activities that affect our lands and territories.  Our laws and legal traditions embrace a balanced view of security, development, environmental protection and fundamental rights.  We have deep and strongly held traditions that respect individual autonomy, freedom of speech and how to balance these for the collective good. Canada can learn from this. 

That is the history and perspective we bring to this Bill.  We believe in the right to safety and security but the federal government’s rush to ram this legislation through is undemocratic and it violates our individual and collective rights. 

We have many concerns with this legislation.  First, the proposed Security of Canada Information Sharing Act sets out an overly broad definition of “activity that undermines the security of Canada”.  We see this as a euphemism for an “excuse to spy on” First Nations when they exercise their collective and individual rights.  Our people could find themselves under increasing surveillance because of the broad, vague concepts and activities covered by this phrase. It clearly goes way beyond the current Criminal Code definition of “terrorist activity.” 

The ‘for greater certainty clause’ that excludes “lawful” advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression is not adequate to deal with complexities of the ongoing task of reconciling First Nations law and jurisdiction with Canada’s asserted sovereignty. 

This government often invokes the rule of law. We would like some rule of law that respects our constitutionally protected rights and our fundamental human rights. The days are gone when absolute parliamentary supremacy trumps human rights and First Nations rights.  But we still see this government struggling to accept the Constitution Act of 1982 – both Part 1, the Charter, and Part II which recognizes and affirms our Treaty and Aboriginal rights.  Both sets of rights are at stake in Bill C-51. 

First Nations maintain that Bill C-51 will infringe our freedom of speech and assembly, our right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, our right to liberty, our fundamental rights as peoples under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, our Treaty rights and our right to self-determination.  Our right to self-determination— recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples— includes the right to protect and make decisions about activities and laws affecting our lands and waters.  But there is a balance between rights and security and we can find it through dialogue with one another as nations.  Unfortunately, the process for developing this legislation did not meet the federal government’s duty to consult and accommodate and on that point alone is subject to challenge in the courts if the government tries to impose it on us. 

Bill C-51 sets up conditions for conflict by creating conditions where our people will be labelled as threats – threats to critical infrastructure or the economic stability of Canada – when asserting their individual or collective rights as First Nations citizens. This is not an abstract argument for our people.  We’ve been labelled as terrorists when we stand up for our rights and our lands and our waters.  We can see how First Nations have been lumped in with terrorists and violent extremists when they are asserting their fundamental rights and jurisdiction as in the recently leaked RCMP memo entitled “Criminal Threats to the Canadian Petroleum Industry”.  I am submitting as part of this presentation. 

First Nations have an unmatched record as peaceful peoples in the face of the most appalling human rights abuses, which is particularly exceptional when we remember the unrelenting assaults on our values, laws, jurisdiction and fundamental human rights. 

We are peace-loving peoples but we will push back against assaults on our most basic liberties.  We stand with the many other Canadians who are not willing to forfeit their fundamental rights and freedoms, who are demanding that this government engage in more careful crafting of important legislation.  Canada must do better and must do more to meet its constitutional and Treaty responsibilities to First Nations. 

I leave you with a statement directed not just at this Committee but to all Canadians.  First Nations know better than anyone how easy it is for government to ignore, erode and eradicate our most basic human rights and freedoms until you barely recognize the land you’re living in

First Nations deserve better, Canadians deserve better.  We cannot turn our backs on our hard won human rights and we cannot turn our back on the Indigenous rights, Treaties and title on which this country was founded.  We can do better and we must do better. 

First Nations will vigorously oppose any legislation that does not respect and protect our rights.   First Nations will stand up for the rights of our people and our responsibilities to our traditional territories.  

 We make the following recommendations: 

1)   That the Government withdraw the Bill and consult properly with First Nations about its impacts on our rights.

2)    That the Government discuss with First Nations options for a review process to examine all federal legislation that can impact the assertion of our section 35 rights. 




read more
Assembly of First NationsPresentation to The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security – Bill C-51


on January 30, 2015

Happy New Year 

Greetings and happy new year to everyone across Turtle Island.  I hope that you enjoyed your holidays with friends and family. 

My immediate focus as National Chief is working to advance our agenda for change based on your priorities.  This means in part building relationships and opening lines of communication in Ottawa and across the country. 

Key meetings with the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, AANDC Minister Bernard Valcourt, Québec Minister Responsible for Native Affairs Geoffrey Kelley, Official Leader of the Opposition Thomas Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and a number of Premiers have taken place.  Conveying priorities of First Nations to leaders of Governments in Canada remains my current focus.  

The AFN Executive has also held its first meeting of 2015.  I will continue to keep you informed on this work.  I plan to convene a meeting with former National Chiefs as part of my work to refocus our efforts, revitalize and restructure AFN 

Watch for regular bulletins like this one and for updates at and via social media. If you’re not already following us on Twitter please do at @AFN_Updates and @AFN_Comms and please also check out our official Facebook page. 

National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women – February 27, 2015

Ending violence against Indigenous women and girls is a priority for First Nations, and we welcome the commitment of other governments to work with us to achieve safety and security for all.  With the intent of developing a coordinated action plan to save the lives of Indigenous women and girls, National Aboriginal Organizations and provincial and territorial governments will come together for a roundtable discussion Friday, February 27, 2015 in Ottawa.  The federal government has been invited to participate at this important day of discussion.

National Aboriginal Organizations will host a Families Gathering Thursday February 26, 2015 in Ottawa.  Additionally, an open and inclusive Peoples Gathering will be convened at Carleton University in Ottawa on February 27, 2015 to provide space for all voices, perspectives and solutions to be brought forward to prevent and end violence against Indigenous women and girls.  Details on both events will be available in February. 

The goal of the National Roundtable is to identify solutions and develop a sustained and committed dialogue to implement meaningful and effective solutions that will lead to ending violence against Indigenous women and girls. 

This National Roundtable is just one step in our collective journey toward achieving safety and security for First Nations families.  It is not the only opportunity for dialogue and it is only one part of our advocacy efforts.  It is, however, a tangible opportunity to get all parties to the table.  This is why we are urging the federal government to take part, and it is why we also want to hear from you. 

The AFN has heard your concerns through forums, assemblies, and social media.  We have heard from victims and family members who have bravely shared their stories.  The AFN will be taking forward specific priorities and recommendations for action based on the stories, information and guidance we have gathered over many years and informed by the AFN national action plan to end violence against Indigenous women and girls. 

We all have a responsibility to ensure the Roundtable is useful.  We want to be clear that the Roundtable does not replace our calls for a National Public Commission of Inquiry to address root causes of violence and we will continue to push for an inquiry. 

For more information on the National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous women please visit or directly at:

Personal Education Credits – Extension Achieved

On December 17, 2014 the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled to extend the deadlines for Indian residential schools personal education credits.  On January 8, 2015 new deadline dates were directed by the court as follows: 

Acknowledgement Forms – NEW Deadline March 9, 2015

Redemption Forms – NEW Deadline June 8, 2015

Payments Finalized – NEW Deadline August 7, 2015

All education programs and services must be concluded by August 31, 2015.


The AFN pressed for a deadline extension in response to the serious administrative concerns expressed by survivors and family members across the country and continues to push for existing administrative concerns to be addressed quickly so that former students of residential schools can more easily access the program. 

The personal education credit is the final phase of compensation to Indian residential school survivors as set out in the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA).  It provides a one-time credit of up to $3,000 to former residential school students who have received the Common Experience Payment to be used for personal or group education programs and services provided by approved educational entities.  The process to access personal credits was announced in January 2014 and is administered by Crawford Class Action Services. 

If you require assistance please contact AFN or see resources, links and instructional videos available at or directly at

For direct information from the program administrator please contact Crawford Class Action Services at 1-866-343-1858 or

read more
Assembly of First NationsNATIONAL CHIEF BULLETIN January 2015

AFN BULLETIN December 2014

on December 19, 2014

AFN Special Chiefs Assembly and AFN National Chief Election 

First Nation leaders from across the country gathered for the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly (SCA) and National Chief Election in Winnipeg from December 9-11, 2014.  The Assembly drew almost 2,000 First Nation leaders, Elders, technicians, community members and observers for dialogue and strategy on key issues. 

On Wednesday, December 10, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde was elected as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations on the first ballot ‎with 63% of the vote. National Chief Bellegarde will serve a three-and-a-half year term as mandated by resolution 02-2014 from Chiefs-in-Assembly at the 2014 Annual General Assembly. 

National Chief Bellegarde announced his top priority as given to him by First Nations across the country, that Canada must respect our rights as peoples and our Inherent Right to self-determination.  It will require new approaches and dialogue truly founded in a commitment to recognize and respect our inherent jurisdiction, Aboriginal rights and title, and the sacred Treaty relationships between First Nations and the Crown. 

Together, Chiefs-in-Assembly passed a total of 17 resolutions on a number of priority areas for action, including, but not limited to, funding for First Nations education, support for families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, a Non-Insured Health Benefits Action Plan, Indian Residential Schools Personal Education Credit Program, prescription drug abuse crisis, Specific Claims Tribunal Act, Treaty Right to housing, natural resources, support for the Tsilhqot’in Nation Judgment.  All resolutions are available at  The purpose of this Bulletin is to provide an update on the discussion and direction on the main SCA agenda items. 

Task Group on Nation-Building & AFN Restructuring 

Chiefs-in-Assembly received an update from the Task Group on Nation-Building and AFN Restructuring, which launched in 2013 to examine AFN, processes and structure to ensure it supports Nation building efforts and can evolve according to the direction of First Nations.  The Task Group identified short, medium and long-term areas of focus and key questions relating to the role of the AFN, National Chief, Executive and Secretariat; how voting is conducting and mandates expressed by Chiefs; how First Nation citizens are involved and participation in decision-making as Nations.   The Task Group also recommended that a Chiefs Committee on Nation Building and AFN Restructuring be formed to conduct a review of AFN Charter, drawing on previous experience of leaders and the AFN Renewal Commission, and engage directly with First Nations, regional and Treaty organizations and with citizens to develop recommendations for change. 

More information and short dialogue and discussion papers on this work can be found at

First Nations Control of First Nations Education 

AFN Resolution 35/2014 “Federal Act for Funding First Nations Education” was passed by Chiefs-in-Assembly.  This resolution supports the joint creation of a federal bill that outlines the federal government’s responsibilities to fund First Nations Education.  The resolution speaks only to funding and is not in any way related to Bill C-33 and is clear that work under the resolution is contingent on the federal government withdrawing Bill C-33.  The resolution speaks to an inclusive and transparent process to develop the legislation and accompanying regulations such that First Nation regions are involved throughout the process.  Under the resolution, any draft legislation resulting from this work must first be reviewed and ratified by Chiefs-in-Assembly before it proceeds.  The resolution also demands that Canada honour its constitutional obligation to the Treaty right to education. 

The establishment of a legislative framework for funding First Nation Education is the only way to systematically ensure all First Nation communities benefit from access to quality, culturally appropriate education, not just those with the capacity to negotiate with the federal government. 

Planning for a National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and the Call for a National Inquiry 

One month after a brutal assault along the Assiniboine River in Winnipeg, 16-year-old Rinelle Harper was honoured by Chiefs and delegates on Tuesday December 9.  Red Bear drum group sang an honour song and Rinelle Harper received an eagle feather by Manitoba Regional Chief Bill Traverse on behalf of AFN.  Ms. Harper stood with her parents and sister to address the Chiefs and delegates and pleaded for love, kindness, respect and forgiveness.  She added her soft but strong voice to the call for a National Public Commission of Inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.  It was a touching and powerful moment followed by a standing ovation from the Assembly. 

Chiefs and delegates participated in a strategy and planning session Wednesday December 10 on the upcoming National Roundtable on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls currently expected to take place in February 2015.  Discussions built on the decisions and work to date to end violence against Indigenous women and girls, including three prior resolutions calling for a National Public Commission of Inquiry and the development of a national framework to end violence.  Two resolutions were passed at the SCA in this area: 35/2014 “Support for Families First” and 36/2014 “Engagement and Representation on National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” that reinforce AFN’s mandate to engage in an inclusive fashion and ensure community-based efforts and voices are heard in all work going forward. 

Working Group on Natural Resource Development

The Working Group on Natural Resources Development (Working Group) was launched in December 2013 to start a national conversation to examine ways to ensure that First Nations have the opportunity to participate and share, where interested, in the full range of benefits resulting from natural resource development.  The Working Group update focused on two sessions held in November 2014 and work towards a first summary report. The Working Group identified four emerging themes in discussions to date: governance, environment, prosperity and finance. 

Chiefs-in-Assembly passed resolution 38-2014 calling on the National Chief to support and assist in communicating the urgency of First Nations full involvement in the economy and resource sector. The resolution also supports continued efforts by the Working Group to report on natural resources development, coordinate a meeting with other levels of government and jurisdictions, and to establish a communications plan to ensure First Nations, the Government of Canada, industry, and international communities of interest are aware of the Working Group’s findings.  Chiefs-in-Assembly also underscored the need for recognition of jurisdiction, Treaties, the need for market involvement, a focus on strategic topics, involvement of trade matters in this discussion, and to move on this as a priority area.  The Working Group has reported to Chiefs in Assembly in July 2014, December 2014, and will continue to report to First Nations on its work. 

Non-Insured Health Benefits 

The Chiefs-in-Assembly approved the AFN Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) Action Plan as a living document and directed the AFN Chiefs Committee on Health (CCOH), the AFN National First Nations Health Technicians Network (NFNHTN) and AFN Staff to work on actions identified in the Action Plan.  The CCOH and NFNHTN are meeting next in January 2015. 

As part of the NIHB Action Plan, the AFN has been working diligently on the Joint NIHB Review which is a collaboration between the AFN and the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) at Health Canada.  The first meeting of the Joint NIHB Review Committee took place in October 2014.  The next meeting is scheduled for January 2015. 

The NIHB Action Plan as well as updates on all health policy areas are posted on the AFN website at: 

Specific Claims Review

The Chiefs-in-Assembly passed resolution 40-2014 affirming the significance of the 5-year review of the Specific Claims Tribunal Act and related processes. First Nations are critically concerned about the current specific claims process, including the state of funding for claimants, as well as threats to the independence and viability of the Tribunal.  The Chiefs Committee on Claims (CCoC) has been tasked to engage in the review, and to ensure that any First Nations that wish to do so, have the opportunity to contribute their views on the current state of federal claims processing.  The CCoC is working to finalize an engagement process and is expected to convene a meeting of leaders and experts to contribute to the review.  More information will be provided to First Nations as this work proceeds. 

The Assembly of First Nations thanks all those who took time away from their families and communities to participate in the Special Chiefs Assembly and make it such a success.  We wish everyone all the best over the holiday season.  Please enjoy your time with family, friends and community.

read more
Assembly of First NationsAFN BULLETIN December 2014

AFNQL Chiefs congratulate National Chief Perry Bellegarde for his election

on December 17, 2014

WENDAKE, QC, Dec. 11, 2014 /CNW Telbec/ – The Chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) would like to extend their congratulations and express their support to newly elected National Chief Perry Bellegarde, a man of experience who will know how to face the numerous challenges impacting our Peoples and the national organization.

The First Nations Chiefs of Canada, gathered this week in Winnipeg for their Special Chiefs Assembly, demonstrated a clear willingness to move forward, to rebuild their national organization and to count on their own strengths, and that of their elders, women and youth to do so. The AFNQL will work hand in hand with all First Nations across the country in a spirit of unity and respect for diversity.

As of today, Ghislain Picard resumes his functions as AFNQL Regional Chief. The Innu Nation Chiefs have expressed, through Chief Jean-Charles Piétacho, their pride for supporting one of theirs as one of the National Chief Candidates and they also expressed their satisfaction to have a man of Ghislain Picard’s stature resuming his political mandate with the First Nations of Quebec-Labrador.

The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador is the political organization of 43 Chiefs of the First Nations in Quebec and Labrador.


SOURCE Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador

For further information: Mélanie Vincent: [email protected], Cell.: 418-580-4442 

read more
Assembly of First NationsAFNQL Chiefs congratulate National Chief Perry Bellegarde for his election

Dene National / Assembly of First Nations Office – PERRY BELLEGARDE WINS MAJORITY VOTE

on December 17, 2014

December 15, 2014

Elected as new national chief of Assembly of First Nations December 10, 2014

YELLOWKNIFE – It took the first-ballot to name Saskatchewan’s Perry Bellegarde as the new National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).

Dene National Chief and Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations for the Northwest Territories, Bill Erasmus said, “Firstly, the Dene Nation congratulates the new Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde on taking 63 per cent of the 464 votes. Erasmus said, “We know that the new National Chief will do well because of his experience and confidence that people have put in him. It’s not an easy job.” Erasmus commented on the many important tasks ahead and that the AFN National Chief will collaborate on the many different fronts as he oversees the restructuring of the organization during the next three-and-a-half years.”

At the election in Winnipeg, the former interim AFN leader Ghislain Picard finished second as Leon Jourdain from Ontario, finished third.

The Dene Nation is looking forward to working with the new AFN National Chief on the many issues concerning First Nations and the priorities for the north. In June 2013, Mr. Bellegarde attended the 44th Dene National Assembly in Fort Smith. As Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and AFN Regional Chief of AFN for Saskatchewan, he briefly addressed a crowd of 300 people attending the official commemoration ceremony of 115 years of Treaty No. 8. The ceremony and feast was hosted by Smith’s Landing First Nation in Fort Fitzgerald. “At the ceremony, Bellegarde spoke articulately about the need for more focus on restoration of pride among all First Nations in Canada and on self-determination. He also spoke about the meaning of real leadership,” said Erasmus.

Erasmus went on to say that Bellegarde will have an extra six months added to his three-year tenure because the former National Chief did not complete his term of office, this will give additional time to focus on nation building which will give relevance to its positions and directions and reflect the views and concerns as expressed in our communities. “We will encourage the new National Chief to work with us so our communities are able to enact and exercise their political rights which have been denied to them, even though we have treaties and agreements in place and are winning court cases,” said Erasmus.

read more
Assembly of First NationsDene National / Assembly of First Nations Office – PERRY BELLEGARDE WINS MAJORITY VOTE

The First Nations Leadership Council Congratulates the Newly Elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations

on December 17, 2014

December 11, 2014

(Treaty 1 Territory/Winnipeg, MB) – December 9-11, 2014, First Nations leadership from across Canada met in Winnipeg, MB, for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN)Special Chiefs’ Assembly. The election for National Chief was held on December 10, thesecond day of the Assembly. The political leadership of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs,First Nations Summit and the BC Assembly of First Nations, collectively the First NationsLeadership Council, wish to congratulate newly elected AFN National Chief, PerryBellegarde. National Chief Bellegarde, formerly Regional Chief with the Federation ofSaskatchewan Indian Nations, is from Little Black Bear First Nation. He received 63% ofthe vote and was declared AFN National Chief on the first ballot.

The First Nations Leadership Council expresses their appreciation to the othercandidates for National Chief, Ghislain Picard (Regional Chief, Quebec and Labrador)and Leon Jourdain (former Grand Chief, Treaty 3) for their courage and commitment torunning in the election for National Chief and for the contributions both leaders havealready made to improvements in the lives of First Nations peoples in their owncommunities and regions and indeed across Canada.

The First Nations Leadership Council has a history of working in partnership with theAFN National Chief and AFN National Executive and looks forward to futureopportunities to do so.

read more
Assembly of First NationsThe First Nations Leadership Council Congratulates the Newly Elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations


on December 17, 2014

December 11, 2014. Treaty One Territory.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs congratulates Perry Bellegarde for becoming the new National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations. National Chief Perry Bellagarde was elected for a 3 year term till 2017.

“With today’s uncertainty of unilateral legislation and policy aimed to keep our First Nations in poverty, we need a strong voice to support our people who face these devastating effects. Manitoba Chiefs put their support in the National Chief to effectively find concrete solutions that help eliminate violence against our women and girls, to keep the family tie together, and to improve the infrastructure for on-reserve residents to ensure their well-being,” stated Grand Chief Derek Nepinak.In

In the first ballot of voting the Chiefs across Turtle Island elected Perry Bellegarde to represent them at a national level to tackle the issues and concerns of First Nations. The Assembly of First Nations is a political organization that advocates for the rights of First Nations nationally.

“The role of the National Chief is going to be challenging as each First Nation community are unique and calls for a different process, instead of the one approach that fits all. Each First Nation region has their own governance structure that the federal government needs to respect to ensure their rights are being properly met” concluded Grand Chief Nepinak.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs are optimistic on the direction National Chief Perry Bellegarde is going to be taking the Assembly of First Nations and are excited to see the outcomes in the near future.

read more


on December 17, 2014

Wednesday December 10, 2014

WINNIPEG, MB: Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Harvey Yesno, on behalf of the Executive Council, congratulates Perry Bellegarde on his election as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) by First Nation leaders during the AFN Special Chief Assembly in Winnipeg today:

“On behalf of NAN First Nations I congratulate Perry Bellegarde on his election as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. As regional Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, Perry Bellegarde has demonstrated his ability to build consensus among First Nation leadership and we look forward to working with him to strengthen the role of the AFN. I am confident that Perry Bellegarde will be a strong advocate for First Nations as our national representative and we look forward to working with him to establish a new and productive relationship with our federal Treaty partner.”
NAN also thanks Ghislain Picard, the assembly’s interim leader, and Leon Jourdain, former Chief of Lac La Croix First Nation in Ontario.
read more
Assembly of First Nations