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Vern Bellegarde Elected PTNA Leader

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1988      p04  
Vern Bellegarde Chiefs representing First Nations from throughout western Canada on April 20, elected Vern Bellegarde of Little Black Bear Band of Saskatchewan to lead the Prairie Treaty Nations Alliance midway through a three-day meeting in Saskatoon.

Bellegarde, 45, defeated Angus McLean of the James Smith Band in Saskatchewan and Peter Manywounds of the Sarcee Band.

The new PTNA chief immediately pledged to begin working to ensure that the concerns of treaty Indians are dealt with by the federal government.

"For too long, the issues that are of concern to Treaty First Nations in Canada have been ignored" Bellegarde said. "I intend to see that our issues are put back on the government's agenda."

One of the first problems the new Chief will tackle will be funding for the organization, which as not received any financial assistance from the Federal government since it was formed in 1984 to represent the interests of Treaty First Nations. He said the government can no longer ignore Treaty First Nations and their organization and must make funding available from its existing budget for representative organizations.

The new Chief said he was optimistic about his role and that he senses a renewed spirit of determination amongst the leaders of First Nations of western Canada. He said the atmosphere of the conference has been positive, but the Chiefs are becoming impatient with the government on key issues such as membership, funding for First Nations, education cutbacks, the Meech Lake Accord, and land claims.

The Chief's position was created during the first day of the conference, attended by some 250 delegates from across western Canada. Terms of reference for the Chief were also adopted on Tuesday, and his mandate is expected to be enlarged during the remainder of the meeting as delegates discuss major issues.

Senator Henry Langham, Commissioner of Oaths dedicated Chief Bellegarde to his new post. Before an emotional audience, Elders Lawrence Tobacco and Eli Bear presented Chief Vern Bellegarde with traditional clothes and sweetgrass to help guide him in his walk.