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

Just Posted

Patrons rip around a corner on the go-kart course at Lakeshore Go-Karts and Mini-Golf. (Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News)
Sylvan Lake go-kart and mini golf course reopens after fire

Last August the outdoor facility was shut down after a fire burned through much of the business

(File photo from The Canadian Press)
Red Deer down to 66 active COVID-19 cases

Red Deer has lowest number of active cases since last November

A small selection of shoes line a step at the Municipal Government Building in Sylvan Lake, with each pair representing a vicitm of residential schools in Canada. Tracey Greinke placed the first pair of shoes on the steps, hoping more would follow. (Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News)
Sylvan Lake woman sets up small memorial for residential school victims

Tracey Grienke placed a pair of moccasins on the steps of town hall, and a few more followed

FILE – 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. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Left handed pitcher Evan Wilde started the game for Sylvan Lake and allowed four runs in the 12-10 extra-innings loss against the Edmonton Prospects on Sunday in Western Canadian Baseball League play. (Photos by Byron Hacket/Blakc Press News Media)
Historic opening weekend for Sylvan Lake Gulls

The Gulls finished the opening weekend with one win and two losses

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pilots say no reason to continue quarantines for vaccinated international travellers

Prime minister says Canada still trying to limit number of incoming tourists

Fans watch the warm-up before Game 6 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens in NHL playoff hockey action Saturday, May 29, 2021 in Montreal. Quebec’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions will allow 2,500 fans to attend the game for the first time in fourteen months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Two-thirds of Canadians say governments shouldn’t lift all COVID-19 restrictions

Poll reports Canadians who gained pandemic weight say they have gained 16 pounds on average

Paul Bernardo is shown in this courtroom sketch during Ontario court proceedings via video link in Napanee, Ont., on October 5, 2018. Teen killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo is set for a parole hearing today. The designated dangerous offender, has been eligible for full parole for more than three years. Bernardo’s horrific crimes in the 1980s and early 1990s include for kidnapping, torturing and killing Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy near St. Catharines, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Banning
Killer rapist Paul Bernardo faces parole hearing today; victim families opposed

Designated dangerous offender has been eligible for full parole for more than three years.

People look over the damage after a tornado touched down in Mascouche, Que., north of Montreal, Monday, June 21, 2021. Dozens of homes were damaged and one death has been confirmed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
One dead and extensive damage as tornado hits Mascouche, Que., north of Montreal

Damage reported in several parts of the city, and emergency teams dispatched to sectors hardest hit

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

A pair of Alberta residents were arrested after police responded to a report of a woman who had allegedly been assaulted and confined against her will on June 20, 2021. (File photo)
Salmon Arm RCMP arrest 2 Albertans suspected in alleged assault, unlawful confinement

Firearms, stolen items seized including NHL hockey cards believed to be worth thousands

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctors urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

Most Read