Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. Bellegarde says it’s time for Canada to have a First Nations governor general days after Julie Payette announced her resignation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. Bellegarde says it’s time for Canada to have a First Nations governor general days after Julie Payette announced her resignation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

It’s time for a First Nations person to be governor general: Bellegarde

‘I’ve always said that we need to get First Nations people into the highest levels of decision-making authority’

With a growing sentiment that Julie Payette’s abrupt departure from Rideau Hall provides an opportunity for Canada to have its first Indigenous governor general, Perry Bellegarde laughs when asked if he’s been taking French lessons.

“Mais oui,” Bellegarde said Thursday in an interview with The Canadian Press — “Yes.”

Bellegarde, who is not seeking re-election as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations next July, said he has not been formally approached by “any person in decision-making authority” regarding the job and that he is focused on his current one till it’s done.

That out of the way, Bellegarde expressed enthusiasm for the idea of having a First Nations person named to be the Queen’s representative in Canada — a post suddenly vacated last week when Payette stepped down over a scathing review of the work environment she presided over at Rideau Hall.

“I think it is time that Canada has its first Indigenous governor general,” he said.

“I’ve always said that we need to get First Nations people into the highest levels of decision-making authority, power and influence and the governor general, to me, is one of the highest.”

Bellegarde said it would send a strong message to young people who would see themselves reflected at the highest levels in Canada — something he said should also happen at the Supreme Court — and be a move toward reconciliation.

“It’s about hope,” he said. “All Canadians, including First Nations people, should see themselves as part of this great country.”

Chief Bobby Cameron, a regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations representing Saskatchewan, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has the “perfect opportunity.”

“Do it. Stop talking about it. Stop talking about reconciliation and all these other good words,” said Cameron. “Now is the time for action. And if you can do that, then you have done something positive in the direction of reconciliation.”

Cameron said that with all due respect to Métis and Inuit people, the governor general should be a First Nations person because they are the only Indigenous group subject to treaty rights. He said that the governor general — a position that predates Canada’s Confederation — was meant to act as the Crown’s spokesperson in treaty relations and that purpose has been lost.

“That’s why it needs to be a First Nation person, one that’s knowledgeable, educated, and a fluent language speaker because language is an inherent right for First Nation people,” said Cameron, who added that housing rights are also a concern.

Michèle Audette, who was a commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, said appointing an Indigenous person as governor general would be a “historic” move.

She also said that whoever ends up being named, no matter their background, must acknowledge Canada’s colonial history.

“We have to do something now and for tomorrow that is better than what happened to our people a long time ago and is still happening.”

National Chief Elmer St. Pierre of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which represents Métis, off-reserve status and non-status Indigenous people, said an Indigenous governor general will need a strong mandate to heal the damage done by policies like the Indian Act and residential schools, where thousands of children suffered abuse and death after they were forcibly removed from their families and communities.

“The con side would be, have they already got somebody in mind? A hand-picked person who’s just going to be a yes man for the government.”

St. Pierre said he would like the governor general to invite broader representation of Indigenous people to important policy conversations, including his own group — which represents different people from the Assembly of First Nations.

“If we end up with a governor general who is an Aboriginal person I’d like to see that person make sure that every Aboriginal organization get invited to all the important tables,” said St. Pierre.

Lorraine Whitman, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said several Indigenous men have represented the Crown at the provincial level, starting in 1974 when Ralph G. Steinhauer became Alberta’s lieutenant-governor.

James Bartleman became Ontario’s lieutenant-governor in 2002, Steven Point was named British Columbia’s lieutenant-governor in 2007, and Russell Mirasty has been Saskatchewan’s lieutenant-governor since he was appointed in 2019.

Whitman said an Indigenous woman would be a good choice.

“I do work with women, girls, and our 2SLGBTQQIA community and if a woman was (governor general) I would see a really strong pull for those groups,” she said.

Historian Nathan Tidridge, who has written about reconciliation and the Crown’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples in Canada, said that although the governor general’s role has lost some of its powers, it has the unique ability to bring together all levels of government as well as Indigenous leaders when trying to mend treaty relations.

“I don’t know that if the non-Indigenous side has the capacity to (heal the nation-to-nation relationship) right now because of a lack of education,” said Tidridge.

Bellegarde said some people say the governor general has only a ceremonial role but that role is important because First Nations have special treaty relationship with the Crown that was done through ceremony.

“There’s a sacredness to that agreement, sacredness to that contract,” he said.

“It’s almost like we’re building a relationship.”

John Chidley-Hill and Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Indigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A rendering shows the entrance planned for the Hornby Island Arts Centre. Image supplied
Numerous Comox Valley projects get CERIP grants

Numerous Comox Valley projects have received grants through the Community Economic Recovery… Continue reading

Thrifty Foods. (Black Press file photo)
Thrifty Foods confirms staff member tests positive for COVID-19 in Courtenay

The company currently lists 12 stores within B.C. with confirmed cases

Comox Valley Schools’ distance learning program, Navigate (NIDES), which saw some large gains in enrolment this year, could see a return to normal numbers come September. Image, screenshot
Comox Valley Schools expects enrolment drop come fall

Decline projected online, as more students return to ‘bricks-and-mortar’ classes

Cumberland will be looking to a parcel tax to cover debt for its new water system. File photo
Cumberland plans for parcel tax to cover water debt

Parcel tax review panel would take place March 22, if necessary

G.P. Vanier in Courtenay has six members of the community who have tested positive; Island Health identified seven staff and 78 students who will be required to self-isolate. Black Press file photo
SD71 identifies eight positive cases of COVID-19 and instructs 108 people to self-isolate

The letter noted that all who have tested positive did not contract COVID-19 within the school sites

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is preparing a rapid response team proposal for submission to the B.C. Ministry of Education. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district chosen as COVID-19 rapid response team

Team to consist of SD68 and Island Health staff, according to B.C. Ministry of Education

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Most Read