Open Letter to National Chief Perry Bellegarde
Correct the Public Record: Chiefs Committee Has Not Endorsed AFN Plan for Policy Reform
National Chief Perry Bellegarde
Assembly of First Nations
1600-55 Metcalfe Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6L5
March 18, 2019
Dear National Chief Bellegarde,
We are writing to insist that you immediately issue a public correction to an erroneous statement you made regarding an Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs Committee’s position on proposed reforms of four key policies.
It has come to our attention that on March 6, 2019 you wrote to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs regarding proposed work by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on Canada’s policies on Comprehensive Land Claims, Inherent Rights, Specific Claims, and Additions to Reserves. In that letter, you are critical of a federal government initiative to reform these policies by June, a timeline that necessarily excludes proper consultation with First Nations. Your letter recommends an AFN approach to policy reform that was “discussed and endorsed by our Chiefs Committee on Lands, Territories, and Resources on February 7, 2019.”
The Chiefs Committee on Lands, Territories, and Resources made no such endorsement. Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, who sits on this Committee as an alternate BC political representative, was in attendance at that meeting. During the meeting, Chiefs expressed surprise that the AFN had taken steps toward policy co-development with Canada without a resolution from Chiefs providing a mandate to undertake this work. Members of the Chiefs Committee questioned you directly about the existence of any mandate to pursue reform of the four policies and insisted that the issue be brought to the next Special Chiefs Assembly for consideration and discussion. We reiterated and we insisted that a resolution was required for the AFN to engage Canada in reforming the policies that affect our Nations so acutely.
We fail to see how our unequivocal insistence that the issue be brought to Chiefs for discussion translated into an endorsement by the Chiefs Committee of the AFN approach as you state in your letter to the Minister. The story, along with the false account of the Committee’s endorsement, has been repeated in the public media. We ask that you issue a public statement correcting the record and that you provide us with an explanation for your inclusion of the false account in your letter to the Minister.
Since our formation in 1969 in opposition to the federal government’s White Paper, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs has insisted upon the self-determination, sovereignty, and jurisdiction of our Nations. For fifty years we have supported Nations in their struggles to protect and exercise their Inherent Rights, Title, and Treaty Rights, and have been consistently outspoken regarding the threat that Crown policies, such as the federal Comprehensive Claims policy, pose to our human rights, as articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is of paramount importance that you correct the public record as our work opposing these destructive policies must not be subsumed into a unilateral, unapproved AFN initiative, and thereby deemed irrelevant.
On behalf of the UNION OF BC INDIAN CHIEFS
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson
BC Specific Claims Working Group
Union of BC Indian Chiefs Council
AFN Chiefs Committee on Lands, Territories and Resources
BC Assembly of First Nations
First Nations Summit