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National Chief Bellegarde calls for change

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde was at Nipissing University on Monday, September 28, for a special lecture about closing the gap between First Nations and Canada.

The lecture, titled Closing the Gap Between First Nations and Canada: An Agenda for Action, builds on the National Chief’s recent release of the eight-page document Closing the Gap: 2015 Federal Election Priorities for First Nations and Canada.  The document highlights the many inequalities First Nations people experience. 

With an attentive crowd of about 100 people, Bellegarde explained his plan and vision for comprehensive, collaborative change to close the gap.  He outlined a six-point plan that discusses strengthening First Nations communities, equitable funding for essential services, upholding treaty rights, respecting the environment, revitalizing indigenous languages and ensuring that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 recommendations are enacted.

Bellgarde calls on all Canadians to support closing the gap. The gap between First Nations and Canada is the vast difference in the quality of life experienced by First Nations people and non-Indigenous Canadians.

It is evident in statistics showing that half of First Nations children live in poverty, life expectancy for First Nations citizens is five to seven years less than other Canadians, more than 40,000 Aboriginal children and youth are in foster care, and the more than 1,200 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Closing the gap will create a more fair and just Canada and add billions to the country’s economy.

At the lecture Bellegard explained why First Nations’ priorities are Canada’s priorities and the AFN’s efforts to ensure that these priorities are addressed during this federal election.  Liberal candidate Anthony Rota, NDP candidate Kathleen Jodouin, and Green Party candidate Nicole Peltier were in attendance.

“The gap needs to be closed. It's been 35 years since it has been addressed and it's not in the best interests of our country to keep it that way. There is a high social cost to this gap,” said National Chief Bellegarde. “You need to get out and vote. The First Nations vote matters, our issues matter. Find out which political party is willing to close the gap.”

Bellegarde is using the federal election as an opportunity to bring First Nations' issues to the forefront.  He has sent his document to the leaders of the four main parties. Responses have been promised.

“October 19 [Federal election voting day] is so important. Our people, our voice and our vote will matter,” said Bellegarde. “This is an important election and every vote crucial.”​

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