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

file photo
County Council discusses new tax incentives for non-residential properties

County of Wetaskiwin Council discussed new tax incentives for non-residential properties at… Continue reading

Screen grab/ Government of Alberta COVID-19 aggregate data map
City of Wetaskiwin down to just five active cases

Active COVID-19 cases in the City of Wetaskiwin continue to decline.

Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says Albertans need to keep making safe choices to start bending the curve back down. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
One new COVID-19 death in Red Deer, 257 additional cases province-wide

Red Deer sits at 459 active cases of the virus

File photo
Norris Beach Road Tender Approved

County of Wetaskiwin Council awarded the tender for Range Road 11 to Crow Enterprises Ltd.

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

Maskwacis virtual job fair
MEC goes virtual with job fair and services during pandemic

By Chevi Rabbit For Ponoka News Maskwacis Employment Center’s (MEC’s) semi-annual job… Continue reading

hands
The call is out in Rimbey to sign on with a group that is all about building connections

‘Already, we are building a network where we can rely on each other and help each other out’

FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
‘Vaccine, vaccine’: Dolly sings ‘Jolene’ rewrite before shot

The Grammy-winning legend turned 75 this year

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks about the Fiscal update during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID-19: Wage and rent subsidies, lockdown support to be extended until June

Chrystia Freeland says now is not time to lower levels of support

Many rural seniors are having to travel a long way to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Stettler residents are being told to go to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose. (Black Press file photo).
Rural central Alberta seniors have to travel far to get vaccines

Stettler residents are being directed to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose clinics

Samantha Sharpe, 25, was stabbed to death at Sunchild First Nation on Dec. 12, 2018. Chelsey Lagrelle was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for manslaughter in a Red Deer courtroom on Tuesday. Photo contributed
Central Alberta woman sentenced to 4 1/2 years for stabbing friend to death in 2018

Chelsey Lagrelle earlier pleaded guilty to stabbing Samantha Sharpe during argument

Calgary police say they received 80 hate crime complaints between January and November 2020. (Pixabay)
‘Racism is a real problem:’ Muslim women fearful following attacks in Edmonton

So far in 2021, three of seven hate-crime-related investigations have involved Somali-Muslim women

Most Read