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.

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

Just Posted

Vaseux Lake. Grant Harder photo.
Letter: Why can’t we have motorized boats on Vaseux Lake?

Avid fisherman with a disability would love to use his pontoon

This elevated boardwalk will be replaced at the Osoyoos Desert Centre. (courtesy of the Osoyoos Desert Centre)
Funding to replace Osoyoos Desert Centre’s elevated boardwalk is ‘dream come true’

The 1.5 km boardwalk and trail is enjoyed by over 10,000 visitors annually

Wills Hodgkinson, 10, and his mom Neeley Brimer get ready to battle round three of cancer. The community of Penticton has his back. (Submitted)
Community raises $21K to help Penticton boy battle third round of cancer

Okanoggin Barbers held the fundraiser on Saturday for 10-year-old Wills Hodgkinson

The Okanagan’s first virtual wedding fair will be held Saturday, March 27. {Paul Rodgers photo)
Okanagan to host virtual wedding fair

Okanagan wine country is No. 1 destination for weddings - online event set for March 27

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

(Contributed)
Kelowna flight potentially exposed to COVID-19

Third case on a local flight this month, compared to 14 through January

Vernon Search and Rescue, with help from the Air Rescue One helicopter out of Wildcat Helicopters in Kelowna, and Central Okanagan Search and Rescue, were able to transport an injured snowmobiler to Vernon Regional Airport, where he was loaded into an ambulance and taken to Vernon Jubilee Hospital with a serious, painful back injury. (Facebook photo)
Okanagan helicopter rescue teams called to retrieve injured sledder at Greystokes

Vernon and Central Okanagan Search and Rescue help load injured man into waiting helicopter

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

Chase RCMP held two men involved in drunken disturbances overnight in their detachment’s cells on Feb. 6. (File Photo)
Chase RCMP hold two men involved in drunken disturbances overnight

The two separate incidents took place less than an hour apart.

Kamloops Fire Rescue battled a landfill fire which belched toxic smoke into the air on Feb. 27. (City of Kamloops Photo)
Fire at Kamloops landfill sends thick black smoke into the air

Firefighters made slow progress on the fire throughout the morning.

Most Read