Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), administrator, business leader (born 29 August 1962 in Fort Qu’Appelle, SK). A member of the Little Black Bear First Nation, Bellegarde has been involved in politics since 1986. On 10 December 2014, Bellegarde was elected as the 12th national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, following the resignation of Shawn Atleo. (See also Indigenous Political Organization and Activism in Canada.)
Early Life and Education
Bellegarde was born at the Fort Qu’Appelle Indian Hospital in 1962, and graduated from high school in Balcarres, Saskatchewan, in 1980. Bellegarde is a member of the Little Black Bear First Nation, a Cree-Assiniboine community north of Balcarres. The Bellegarde family is active in First Nations political leadership, with members serving at local, regional and provincial levels. He graduated from the University of Regina in 1984 with a Bachelor of Administration, and in 2012 completed the Chartered Director program through The Directors College.
After his graduation from the University of Regina, Bellegarde served for two years as the director of personnel for the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies. He entered politics for the first time in 1986, when he served as vice-president and assistant tribal council representative for the Touchwood-File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council, now known as the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council. Bellegarde’s home band, the Little Black Bear First Nation is a member of the council, which provides programs, services and political support for 11 First Nations in Treaty 4 territory. (See also Indigenous Territory.) Two years after he joined the tribal council Bellegarde became Tribal Chair, a position he would hold for 10 years. He simultaneously served as the tribal council representative for Little Black Bear.
In his 10 years as president, Bellegarde achieved a number of victories for his community, including the development of a multi-service centre for First Nations peoples at The Gathering Place in Regina. The Gathering Place provides education, employment and restitution programs as well as family services and cultural activities. In addition, Bellegarde spearheaded the movement to transfer the Fort Qu’Appelle Indian Hospital to First Nations control. This successful transfer led to the creation of the All Nations Healing Hospital. He also orchestrated the settlement of a land claim that restored reserve status to Treaty 4 lands in the Fort Qu’Appelle area.
Grand Chief, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
In 1998, Bellegarde was elected grand chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN); as grand chief, he also became a regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Bellegarde undertook a number of projects, including a compensation package for First Nations veterans and the negotiation of a gaming agreement with the Saskatchewan government. He was re-elected once, but lost the next election in 2003 to challenger Alphonse Bird. Bellegarde’s leadership was criticized for being overly focused on policy and politics, an expensive approach that neglected practical considerations like inadequate housing and social issues.
Bellegarde then served as vice president of Labour and Aboriginal Initiatives with the Crown Investments Corporation. He ran for National Chief of the AFN in 2009, losing to Shawn Atleo. From 2010 to 2012 he served as chief of his home community, the Little Black Bear First Nation. As chief he moved the band out of third party management, and resolved issues that had prevented the construction of new housing for 13 years.
In 2012 he was re-elected Grand Chief of the FSIN, but took a leave of absence in in 2014 to again run for National Chief of the AFN.
National Chief, Assembly of First Nations
On 10 December 2014 in Winnipeg, Bellegarde was elected national chief of the AFN, defeating Ghislain Picard
with the support of 63 per cent of delegates. Bellegarde, who has been described as “fiery,” promised to decrease economic and social inequality by increasing First Nations’
share of resource revenue, as well as advocating for Indigenous rights (inherent and treaty rights)
and facilitating the process of self-determination. Bellegarde was re-elected AFN national chief in 2018.