'Together, everybody achieves more': Perry Bellegarde emphasizing AFN unity after 7 years as national chief

Saskatchewan’s Perry Bellegarde has officially been replaced as the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), after seven years in the role.

Bellegarde said he is proud of the teamwork of the assembly during his tenure, helping progress Indigenous policies and ideas.

“I think by working as a team. Together, everybody achieves more,” Bellegarde said, in an interview with CTV Morning Live Regina.

A member of the Little Black Bear First Nation in Treaty 4 territory, Bellegarde was elected as the national chief of the AFN in 2014. He was re-elected to the position in 2018.

He highlighted the progress AFN has made over the past seven years, including legislative successes such as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Indigenous Languages Bill.

“Plus $45 billion over seven fiscal years to First Nations people. So I believe we moved the yardsticks working as a team and we just have to maintain the momentum now,” Bellegarde said.

AFN elected RoseAnne Archibald of the Taykwa Tagamou Nation in Ontario as its new chief at the 42nd Annual General Assembly on Thursday.

Archibald is the first woman elected to lead the assembly.

“It’s always good, we need to see leadership from women in all levels of positions and authority,” Bellegarde said. “It’s everything we say, you’ve got to keep moving forward."

The outgoing chief said the best advice he could give Archibald is to maintain momentum.

“Bring back people together, bring back leaders together and maintain the unity and keep moving forward,” he said.

Following her victory, Archibald echoed the sentiment of unity.

"While there are things and differences that divide us, there is much that we share," she said.

"We all want our children to grow up proud and surrounded by love, culture, ceremony and language and safe and vibrant communities. We want a mother earth for them that is not threatened by wildfires and climate change and wildfires and a warming planet. We want to be good ancestors and leave a strong legacy for the seven generations ahead."

Throughout Bellegarde’s career, he also served as the chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council and Little Black Bear First Nation.

After 35 years of service, he said he plans on taking advantage of a break.

“In leadership as a chief, you’re just a helper, a servant of the people. And 35 years, its time to rest now and reset and spend time with family,” Bellegarde said.

“We’ll see what the next chapter brings."

Bellegarde announced that he would not be seeking AFN re-election in December 2020.

With files from The Canadian Press