2021 Nation Builder of the Year
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9 December, 2021 2021 Nation Builder of the Year
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December 2021
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December 9, 2021

The Empire Club of Canada Presents

2021 Nation Builder of the Year

Chairman: Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada; Vice-President, External Affairs & Professional Learning, Humber College

Award Recipient
Chief Perry Bellegarde, Former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations

Host
Omar Sachedina, National Affairs Correspondent, CTV National News

Distinguished Guest Speakers
Dan Longboat, Associate Professor, Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies, Trent University
Kiya Bruno, Singer, Samson Cree Nation
Anthony Rota, Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada
Chris Angeconeb, President and CEO, Big Tree Carbon Corp.
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
Buffy Sainte-Marie, Singer-Songwriter
Ronna Ambrose, former Cabinet Minister & Interim Leader, Conservative Party of Canada
Chelsey and Jaaji June, Twin Flames
Paul Martin, Former Prime Minister of Canada
Bruce Heyman, Former US Ambassador to Canada
Sean Rosen, Executive Chair, Board of Directors, Osisko Gold Royalties
Louise Halfe – Sky Dancer, Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate
David Dandeneau, Board Chair, Manito Ahbee Festival
Lisa Meeches, Founding Partner, Eagle Vision
Adrian Burns, Chair, National Arts Centre Board of Directors
Natan Obed, President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
Michael White, President & CEO, IBK Capital Corp

Introduction
It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau. Literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.

It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.

Welcome Address by Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon, bonjour, tansi, tawâw, past presidents, board members, friends, and members of the Empire Club of Canada. My name is Kelly Jackson, and I am the Board President, of the Empire Club of Canada. Welcome to our third-annual Nation Builder of the Year Award, the club's signature event of the year, where we recognize and celebrate an individual or group who, throughout the past year, has made a significant contribution to making Canada a stronger, and more unified country. Three years ago, we presented the inaugural award to the Toronto Raptors, who, through the power of sport, made Canada as joyful as it was proud, to see this extraordinary team become NBA World Champions, unifying Canadians with the We the North campaign. Last year, the Empire Club recognized frontline workers, the men and women who have worked so tirelessly and bravely to support us throughout the pandemic. This year, a strong and unifying voice emerged, advocating that we should learn from historical mistakes of the past, to make both the First Nations communities, and the non-Indigenous peoples of Canada stronger, through education, empathy, partnership, and respect. This voice belongs to one of the great human rights advocates of our era, the immediate past National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Chief Perry Bellegarde. His message was one of hope, and strength, based on a premise that is as simple as it is logical: a stronger First Nations, makes a stronger Canada.

To begin our program, I would like to acknowledge that I’m hosting this event within the Traditional and Treaty Lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. In acknowledging Traditional Territories, I do so from a place of understanding the privilege my ancestors and I have had in this country, since they first arrived here in the 1830’s. I want to recognize that this past September, across the country, many dedicated time on the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, to learn more about the experiences of Indigenous children who were forced to attend Residential Schools. Many of those individual stories are untold, buried with them in the land; and many survivors who tried to tell those stories were not believed. I hope we continue to find ways throughout the year, to honour these survivors and to hear their stories. As we connect past actions to present realities, listening and learning from each other is so important, and we encourage everyone tuning in today to learn more about the Traditional Territory on which you work and live.

If you require technical assistance at any point during this event, please start a conversation with our team, using the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. We also invite you to share your thoughts on social media throughout the event, using the hashtags displayed on the screen. To those watching on demand later, and to those tuning in on the podcast, welcome.

The Empire Club of Canada is a non-profit organization, so it's important we recognize our sponsors, who have made this event possible, and complimentary for all to attend. As you will see, we have a long list of organizations to acknowledge, demonstrating the wide community support for this year's award, and its recipient. Thank you to our presenting sponsors. IBK Capital Corp, Big Tree Carbon Corp, and Osisko Gold Royalties; and to our major sponsors, Alamos Gold, AurCrest Gold, Enerev5 Metals, Hive Blockchain Technologies Ltd, LiUNA, New Age Metals, RBC, TD Securities, TELUS, and Waste Connections of Canada. Thank you to our supporting sponsors, Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd, ArcPacific Resources Corp, Bold Ventures, Bruce Power, Canada Lands Company, Canada Nickel Company, Canadian Bankers Association, Canadian Securities Exchange, Emmanuele Family, Equity Participation, Fortis Inc, Fromm Corp, Holmer Gold Mines, IBM Canada, Kayjay Realty Inc, Kreative Ventures Ltd, Noble Mineral Exploration Ltd, ONEX, Poet Technologies, Providential Pictures, Seneca College, Spruce Ridge Resources, Tech Resources, Torstar, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Regina, and thank you to our in kind sponsors, Humber College and Navigator. I would also like to note that the Empire Club Foundation is supporting this event, by providing schools, universities, and colleges across Canada, with a special teachers guide, to promote discussion on the themes raised during today's program.

It is now my honour to introduce a great Indigenous leader and academic, Dr. Dan Longboat, who will provide a blessing for the ceremony we are about to witness. This will be followed by a rendition of “O Canada”, performed in English and Cree by the very talented Samson Cree teen, Kaya Bruno, who you may have seen at some of her recent performances opening national sporting events

Dan Longboat, Associate Professor, Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies, Trent University

[Blessing Delivered in Kanien'kéha]

All of us, the human beings, have been instructed to give thanks, and to extend our greetings and appreciation and respect to all of the things that work to sustain it to perpetuate life. And so, this many of us that are gathered together here today, we extend our Greetings and thanks to our families and our communities, to all of the ones that have been here before, and all the ones that are yet to come, we send greetings and thanks to all of the human beings. We send greetings and thanks to our Mother, the earth, that she is still doing the work that she was given, so long time ago, to promote, and to strengthen, and to provide for all of life. We thank all of the waters of the earth, that they're still doing their job that they were given so long ago, to carry life, and to promote it, and to strengthen all of us as the human beings, and to strengthen all of life. We send greetings and thanks to all of the things that are on the earth, the plants, the medicines, the foods that we eat, the trees, the birds, all of the insects, all of the things that are walking and moving above the Earth, we send greetings and thanks to them that they're still working hard for the continuation of life. We send greetings and thanks to the things that are above the earth, our Grandmother, the moon, our Elder Brother, the sun, our Grandfathers the thunders, all of the things that are moving about, the circulation of winds that bring us seasons, all of the things that are there, that providing for the continuation of life, we send greetings and thanks to them with one mind. And then now to the Four Beings, the ones that have manifested themselves throughout time, that they have manifested and brought the messages to us about how to be real human beings, and that they have cared for us, and protected us, and guided us throughout time. And so, we send greetings and thanks to the Four Beings, and ask them that they would still continue to watch over us, the human beings. And then with one mind, and our most choicest words, and our best thoughts, we send greetings to our Great Creator, Shonkwaia’tison, the one that made all of us as the human beings. He breathed life into us, and he gave us our original instructions. He told us to love one another, to respect and to learn from all of nature, and to give thanks. And in this process of that we are fulfilling now, we are thanking our Great Creator, who gave us those instructions, and out of his mind came what we refer to now as life. So, with that many words now we have fulfilled our responsibility, and we ask now that we, as a special blessing, to continued to give power and strength to our great brother, Perry Bellegarde, that he can continue the work that he was set out. We would ask for a special blessing for him, for his friends and his family, and his community, and for the Nations that they would continue to be the real human beings ,and they will continue to love and care for one another. And so, with this many words, we are finished fulfilling our responsibility and giving thanks.[Sign-off in Kanien'kéha]

Kiya Bruno, Singer, Samson Cree Nation
Hello, my name is Kiya Bruno, and I'm 14 years old, from Samson Cree Nation in Muscatine, Alberta, and today I'm going to be singing the Canadian national anthem in Cree and English.

[O Canada Performed in Cree and English]

Kelly Jackson
Thank you for that lovely blessing, Dr. Longboat, and thanks to Kiya Bruno for a wonderful rendition of our national anthem. Up next is a special video tribute, courtesy of Humber College in Toronto.

Video Tribute from Humber College
We are shaped each day by our relations with each other, teachings of Wahkohtowin describe creation as a large network of extended familial relationships, and life as a collection of experiences that reach out from oneself to family, community, and Nation, contributing to the collective well-being of the whole. This practice of building and nurturing relationships, and focusing on collective well-being, is what Chief Perry Bellegarde has put into action throughout his career. For more than 35 years, he has been at the forefront of First Nations leadership and advocacy. He has fought for Indigenous rights, and human rights, while building bridges within Canada, and globally. Earlier this year, Chief Bellegarde completed his second term as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, a term highlighted by the Federal Parliament's passage into law of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, legislation that is foundational to advance in reconciliation. With the discovery of numerous unmarked graves at the sites of former Residential Schools this past spring, Chief Bellegarde challenged Canadians to seize this as a critical moment of understanding about the country's history with Indigenous peoples, and to actively engage in dialogue, to create understanding and action. As we think about how we will tackle the urgent social, economic and environmental challenges of our time, we know transformative change is required; and that can only be done together. We must continue to acknowledge both unique histories, and present realities, and to dedicate ourselves to building relationships across our communities and Nations. Only together, using all ways of being, knowing, and doing, will we continue to build a strong Canada.

Kelly Jackson
Thank you, Humber, for giving us that glimpse into Chief Bellegarde’s act of leadership. Many Canadians are listening to Chief Bellegarde’s words of inspiration, including many in our Canadian Parliament. In fact, the Speaker of the House, the Honourable Anthony Rota, will be placing a copy of the Nation Builder Award into the Official Archives of the Library of Parliament. Let's hear from him why this is so important.

Video Message from Anthony Rota, Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada
Hello and welcome. My name is Anthony Rota, and I come from Nipissing-Timiskaming. It is my honour today to convey my congratulations to Perry Bellegarde, the 2021 Nation Builder of the Year Award, presented by the Empire Club of Canada. Si nous ne pouvons pas, revenir en personne pour le moment, je suis toute fois heureux d'avoir cette chance de transmette mes félicitations Through his more than three decades of leadership and advocacy on behalf of Indigenous rights, Mr. Bellegarde has embodied the triumph of hope over despair, encouraging Canadians to recognize that true reconciliation is possible, if we work towards it together. Last July 1, Mr. Bellegarde said the best story of Canada has yet to be written. Today, I thank him for his faith in our country, and our people, and for his many years of service to First Nations people. I am honoured to have been trusted with the award certificate, which will now become a part of the Library of Parliament collection.

Kelly Jackson
We will now hear from presenting sponsor, Big Tree Carbon Corp. This video was shot outside, on land of significance and importance to Big Tree Carbon Corp.’s President and CEO, Chris Angeconeb—and you may hear some wind coming through the audio feed.

Video Message from Chris Angeconeb, President and CEO, Big Tree Carbon Corp.
Greetings from Obishikokaang Traditional Territory, the backyard of the Lac Seul First Nation in Northwestern Ontario. My name is Chris Angeconeb. I'm the President and Chief Executive Officer, and a Director of Big Tree Carbon Corp, and of its parent company, AurCrest Gold Inc. We're pleased to be joining the Empire Club of Canada as presenting and major sponsors, respectively, of this year's 2021 Nation Builder of The Year. This year, the Empire Club of Canada has chosen to honour and celebrate the achievements of former AFN National Chief, Perry Bellegarde. We invite all to join us in celebration. Miigwetch. Thank you.

Kelly Jackson
And now, it is my privilege to introduce our esteemed moderator, CTVs Omar Sachedina, National Affairs Correspondent for CTV National News. He is one of the brightest and most beloved journalists we have working in the country today. Canadians know him for his in-depth coverage of significant breaking news stories, both here at home, and around the world, as well as anchoring CTV’s National News broadcast. I am delighted to welcome him for the first time to the Empire Club of Canada, and I'm really looking forward to his upcoming interview with Chief Bellegarde, later in our program today. Omar, welcome. And over to you.

Omar Sachedina, National Affairs Correspondent, CTV National News
I can't tell you how very pleased I am to be with you here today. Je suis ravi d'être ici cet après-midi, et je félicite le chef Bellegarde sur cet distinction incroyable. For more than a century, the Empire Club has been a pivotal and dynamic forum for ideas from leading newsmakers and Nation Builders. These speakers have not only shaped this country, but also history, beyond Canada's borders. It goes without saying that I'm grateful, truly grateful, for this opportunity to help recognize and honour a truly great Canadian and First Nations leader, someone whom I deeply respect and value. There are several politicians, community leaders and artists who will be saying a few words in Chief Bellegarde’s honour today; they represent a selection of people who have worked closely with him throughout his career. Let's begin now with a message from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Video Message from Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
Hello, everyone, bonjour à tous, it's wonderful to be with you all to celebrate our friend Perry. Through his many years of service, Perry has made our country a better, more equitable place for everyone, and for that, I can't think of anyone more deserving of this award. So, congratulations Perry, and thank you to the Empire Club for recognizing him and lifting him up. For the past six years, I've had the pleasure to work alongside Perry to advance reconciliation and build a better future for First Nations people across Canada. Through his advocacy and his leadership, we've worked together in partnership to make real progress on the issues identified by First Nations. We've reformed Child and Family Services, protected Indigenous languages and culture, adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, eliminated over 100 long-term drinking water advisories, and have a plan to eliminate the remaining ones. We've closed the funding gaps in First Nations kindergarten through grade 12 education, created a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and changed the Oath of Citizenship to include the recognition of Indigenous peoples, and Perry was part of every single one of those initiatives. Mes amis, nous n’avions pu prendre ces mesures importantes sans le partenariat et la vision de Perry. Et tandis que nous continuons d’avancer sur le chemin indispensable de la réconciliation, je sais que Perry restera le leader qu’il a toujours été, celui qui dirige avec empathie et l’espoir dans un esprit rassembleur. Perry, thank you, my friend for everything you've done. I can't wait to see what you do next. Once again, congratulations.

Omar Sachedina
So many people wanted to be a part of this event today, a testament to Chief Bellegarde’s enduring influence, and of course his leadership. We're now going to hear from two of Chief Bellegarde’s long-time friends, the talented Buffy Sainte-Marie, a much-loved Canadian artist who was recently honoured with a commemorative stamp by Canada Post, and Ronna Ambrose, former Cabinet Minister and Interim Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Video Message from Buffy Sainte-Marie
I want to thank everybody at the Empire Club for the opportunity to join in the applause for our friend, and relative, and colleague, Perry Bellegarde. Ever since our early acquaintance in Fort Qu’Appelle, our Treaty 4 days, you've been a clear and consistent voice on some of our most important issues, local, national, and international, and I'm grateful for your leadership. Wishing you the very best Perry, now and in the future. Kinanâskomitin chi-miigwetch. Well done!

Video Message from Ronna Ambrose, former Cabinet Minister and Interim Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada
Hi everyone. Chief Perry Bellegarde is truly a Nation Builder. Filled with passion, and humility, and integrity, he's a leader who has brought us together to understand what reconciliation can really look like. And he's done it with respect, and dignity, encouraging and educating all of us to do a lot better. Perry is not only an advocate for Indigenous people, but for all human rights, and for the betterment of this country as a whole. So, Perry, congratulations and Val, thank you for sharing him with us. And thank you both for making this country a better place.

Omar Sachedina
I'm delighted to introduce multi award-winning musical duo Twin Flames, who have created a very special performance to honour Perry today. Chelsey June is Métis of Algonquin Cree heritage from Ottawa, and Jaaji June is Inuk and Mohawk, from Nunavik and Kahnawá:ke, and they are part of an Indigenous Renaissance. Their cultural background spans Canada's geography, and their songs, delivered through a mix of English, French, and Inuktitut, have helped them earn a unique place among contemporary music-makers from coast-to-coast-to-coast. And just a little personal touch for everyone watching today, Twin Flames actually performed at Chief Bellegarde’s wedding, and I've got to say their union is a testament to true love. Chief Bellegarde was telling me a little while ago, in fact, that Val has been there for him every step of the way. So, enjoy.

Chelsey and Jaaji June, Twin Flames
Hi, I'm Chelsey June and I'm Jaaji, and we are Twin Flames. Congrats Perry, on being the recipient of the Nation Builders Award. This song is for you. It's called Friends. Congrats again.

[Twin Flames’ song Friends is performed]

Omar Sachedina
What a beautiful sound, and just incredible harmonies. And now we'll hear from former Prime Minister, and Indigenous Children's Education Advocate, Paul Martin; and former US Ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman.

Video Message from Paul Martin, Former Prime Minister of Canada
Perry Bellegarde knew what his priorities were, and he acted on them. He was a leader when it came to First Nations education, to child welfare, and to the environment. He was a leader, who will be known for the significant progress he achieved. He built relationships with all kinds of people, and he succeeded, because he was able to build trust, and establish confidence in every situation he faced. He proposed solutions, close gaps, and I know he will never give up. Canada's relationship with the Indigenous peoples of the land has been contentious at times, but Canada can become an example for all to follow. And Perry Bellegarde has led the way.

Video Message from Bruce Heyman, Former US Ambassador to Canada
This is very exciting. Chief Perry Bellegarde, my friend, getting recognized by the Empire Club as Nation Builder of the Year. You know, there's no better person that should be recognized for their outstanding leadership, of bringing the community of Nations together across Canada. You will be missed, I know, as National Chief, but getting this award is a real culmination of the great work that you've done, not only this past year, but for so many years. It's been a privilege to work with you, and it's a privilege for me to congratulate you today on this in amazing achievement. Congrats Perry.

Kelly Jackson
Now, we will hear from presenting sponsor, Osisko Gold Royalties.

Video Message from Sean Rosen, Executive Chair, Board of Directors, Osisko Gold Royalties
Hi everyone. On behalf of the Osisko Group of companies, we are pleased to support this event, and recognize Perry Bellegarde for his leadership. As a Canadian Nation builder, Mr. Bellegarde has devoted 35 years of his life to advocacy and leadership on behalf of the First Nations. At the Osisko Group, we take our partnership with First Nations communities as an article of faith. In Québec, British Columbia, First Nations communities host our assets, provide vital community support, and are among our most valued employees, managers, and partners. Our culture of partnership exists because it's right, and as a testament to leaders like Mr. Bellegarde, who are charting new ways to collaborate and build a better country for all of us. On behalf of Osisko Group, we thank you, and we wish you the best of luck with all of your next adventures.

Kelly Jackson
Chief Bellegarde has dedicated his life to advancing the rights and well-being of First Nations across Canada. He was elected as the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations exactly seven years ago, in December of 2014, and re-elected in 2018. In this role, he advocated on behalf of diverse First Nations communities in Canada, an extraordinary political and complex feat. His accomplishments are numerous and significant, including championing the passage of important legislation, such as the Indigenous Languages Act. But the award we are presenting Chief Bellegarde with today, speaks to what he accomplished specifically this past year, a time of reckoning, with people reliving and reflecting on a traumatic period in our country's past, that continues to impact us all today. Chief Bellegarde communicated a way forward, a future with hope, and possibility, and a shared notion that only together can we acknowledge and learn from our past and create a better future for all. For this extraordinary accomplishment, it is my great privilege to present Chief Bellegarde, of the Little Black Bear First Nation, with the Empire Club of Canada's greatest honour, the Nation Builder of the Year Award for 2021. It is now my pleasure to invite Chief Bellegarde to join me, to accept the 2021 Nation Builder of the Year award.

Chief Perry Bellegarde, Former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations
Thank you Kelly. Thanks so much. This is awesome

Kelly Jackson
Congratulations. And now, Chief Bellegarde we would be delighted if you would say a few words.

Chief Perry Bellegarde
Thanks, Kelly. [Remarks in Cree]. Bonjour mes amis, bienvenue à tous. To all my relatives and friends, I greet you all in a humble respectful way. I am Cree and Lakota, from the Little Black Bear First Nation, and like most of you, I'm also a treaty person. Little Black Bear entered into Treaty 4 with Queen Victoria in 1874, when Canada was still a very young nation. I was raised to understand that treaty through a First Nations worldview. It's all about relationships, right relationship among our people, and right relationship between human beings, are too like a tribe, and all of creation. Treaty-making is a sacred act, meant to build lasting bonds of mutual respect, peace, and friendship between First Nations, and the newcomers to our lands. And that's why we still say we are all treaty peoples, an expression that embraces all of our neighbours. And today, in a world that's increasingly divided, in where we face such profound threats to our health, and our survival, I believe that the pursuit of right relationship is more important than ever. I'm honoured to be named Nation Builder of the Year by the Empire Club of Canada—and I'll admit that the very name Empire Club gives me pause. However, as I told the organization, to be recognized as a Nation Builder is an honour that I'm very proud to embrace. And let me explain. For me, Nation building has two meanings that must go hand in hand. The first, is the work of restoring First Nations as Nations in the fullest sense of the word. To thrive in the 21st century, First Nations must have the freedom to make our own decisions, according to our own values, and our traditions, and our customs, and our laws. That is the essential foundation for ensuring future generations can thrive and prosper as First Nations, the way that our ancestors intended.

The second aspect of nation-building is the still unfinished work of making Canada that just and fair country that has always claimed to be, and this requires Canada to finally come to terms, to reconcile itself to the reality of un-surrendered, undiminished Indigenous sovereignty. It also requires restoring the balance between Canadian society, and the natural world that sustains all of us. The treaty relationship was intended to last as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow, and the grass grows. And today, we are living through a time of pandemic, economic crisis, and the growing threat of a global environmental catastrophe. It seems like every day; we are given new reasons to fear for the world that our children and our grandchildren will inherit. As we are already seeing, our climate, and the earth itself, things that had seemed eternal to our ancestors, are now in peril. Rebuilding from COVID, and developing the resilience needed to face future pandemics, and addressing the threat of climate change, will all require profound changes in society, and the economy, changes we cannot possibly achieve, unless we can unite behind common goals. Our future, all of our futures, will depend on our ability to break down the walls that divide us. We all need to learn with people who are different from us, with whom we disagree, even if the conversations are difficult—and I would say, especially if the conversations are difficult.

The original spirit and intent of the treaties, it's all about peaceful coexistence, and mutual respect, across the divisions of Nation and culture. It really means learning to live and work together. True inclusivity, includes not just greater opportunity for individual participation in the institutions and structures of Canada, but also inclusivity of worldviews, of knowledge systems, and laws, so that those institutions and structures will change for the better. It is my deep conviction that such inclusivity will ultimately benefit all Canadians. Put simply, First Nations have a lot to offer in making this country a better place for all of our children and grandchildren. I am planning to devote my life to building a better world, by working with those who share my conviction. Together, we can ensure that future generations have the chance to grow up and thrive in a safe and healthy environment. There's still time to take meaningful action on climate change, needed to make this future possible, and there's still time to care for our natural world. And we can all work hard to achieve racial justice. My model, as always, is the example of my ancestors, who taught us that peace, friendship, and mutual respect, are the foundations of nation-building. Now, more than ever, we need to be in right relation with each other, and with the world around us. [Remarks in Cree]. Thank you so much.

Kelly Jackson
Chief Bellegarde, thank you for your kind, generous words, causing us to reflect, and to be hopeful at the same time. To acknowledge there's much progress still to be made on many fronts, but knowing if we come together, and we respect each other, we can find ways to get there. To commemorate today's ceremony and commitment to First Nations education, the Empire Club will be making a $25,000 donation to the First Nations University of Canada, Perry Bellegarde Leadership Scholarship. We're honoured to support and help advance Indigenous education in Canada. I would like to now turn it back over to Omar.

Omar Sachedina
Kelly, thank you so much. I'm so excited and thrilled to be speaking to you face-to-face—we've worked on a few stories together. But also, one of the things that I love about you, Chief Bellegarde, is whether you and I have seen each other at the airport in Ottawa, or whether it's a Starbucks somewhere, you always take the time to listen. And that's what I've most admired about you during the time that I have known you. One of the things that struck me in your speech, is that you said that getting an award from the Empire Club of Canada gave you reason to pause and reflect; and it reminded me of a conversation that I was having with Her Excellency, Mary Simon’s sister, in Nunavik, in northern Québec, around the same time that she was appointed Canada's first Indigenous Governor General. And I'd asked Her Excellency’s sister, do the family feel, or did Mary Simon feel, as though there's a conflict between taking the job of Governor General, an institution that represents the Crown, and also in some ways represents the historical oppressor in this country? And what Annie had told me during one of our walks is that she didn't see that as being conflictual; she saw it as an opportunity to build bridges, which sounds like you see it the same way.

Chief Perry Bellegarde
Yeah. Thanks for that Omar, and I do see it the same way. You know, as First Nations people, we have a very special relationship with the Crown. You know, our treaties are signed with the Crown right of Great Britain, but now the Crown right of Canada, because of the patriation of the Constitution in 1982. And there's a sanctity of agreement, a sacredness, a covenant we have between us, because our treaty relationship was done through ceremony. And so, sharing the land and resource wealth, peaceful coexistence and mutual respect, we still have songs and prayers about the monarchy. And at every powwow you'll hear a flag song sung, and it's in the words of Treaty 4 flag song, it talks about the Queen giving us this flag to flutter in the wind forever. We still have those ceremonies; we still have those songs. And so, any time that you can have a recognition, you know, of that special relationship, that sacred covenant, is very important. And having Indigenous people into highest positions, to me, there's no conflict. I think it's an opportunity to keep building and educating people about that special relationship with the Crown. And building upon that, because it was all about peaceful coexistence and mutual respect. And that sacred covenant, you know, is something we're going to hold on to; it can't be broken, it was witnessed by all of creation. And so, we hang on to that, and that's what I see now going forward. And the crown, the Governor General, Lieutenant Governors, they have a sacred responsibility and a sacred obligation to maintain that relationship. That's what we see now.

Omar Sachedina
And in some ways help lead these difficult and pivotal conversations that we've been having in this country. Canada is going through a certain awakening or reawakening in some ways. The discovery of the graves that has impacted so many of us so profoundly. If you speak to Indigenous people—and I've spoken to my colleagues about this as well—it hasn't been a surprise to them. But the rest of Canada is waking up to this horrific reality and history that we've been having. As far as the progress that we've made collectively as a country, what part have you found most encouraging about that?

Chief Perry Bellegarde
Well, another good question, Omar. I think Canadians are getting it; they're starting to understand, and they're starting to see the real impacts that the Residential Schools—well, we should call them Residential Institutions, because there's not school, there's so much death and abuse in those in those institutions—they're starting to see the intergenerational trauma that the Residential Schools have had on our people. And a lot of our people have called them cultural genocide, but it's a genocide of our people, between the Residential Schools and the imposition of the Indian Act in 1876, people are starting to get it—that oh, that's why First Nations are in such a dilemma, it's because of colonization and oppression, and people are starting to see that. And you mentioned the 215 graves, you know, the unmarked graves in Kamloops. Well, there is 130 Residential Institutions across Canada, and there will be graves at every one of those sites, there's no question. And people are starting to see that. Canadians are getting it, and they're saying, “how do we embrace reconciliation, how can we move forward now, the Indigenous peoples have suffered?” It's like we say, we've learned from the past—let’s not live in the past, but let's chart a new future, a bright future together going forward. That's what I see happening, and that's hopeful, that's enlightenment, that's awareness, that's understanding; and now it's going to lead to action.

Omar Sachedina
And yet there are still so many systemic roadblocks that exist that, you know, have taken generations to build, and will take generations to dismantle. One of those roadblocks is Indigenous child welfare. We know that there are settlement talks ongoing right now, there has been a considerable amount of tension on that file. What do you, the fact that that's proving to be so challenging, what do you think that says about Canada's commitment to reconciliation, the fact that that issue has not been solved?

Chief Perry Bellegarde
Well, it's a very complex issue. And dealing with child welfare, we have 40,000 children in foster care. And when you think about that, 40,000 young people, young children, that will not have access to a loving, caring parent every day, you know, the importance of being guided in love by a loving, caring home is not going to happen for 40,000 children. And so, we targeted, through Bill C92, to respect First Nations law and jurisdiction over child welfare, above federal law and provincial law; hat's where C92 came from—well, the bill was called C90 before it was passed into parliament, but it's there now. And so, First Nations have that obligation, responsibility, to make sure their children are kept at home, in loving caring homes. And so, even when that came about, and when the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal showed very clearly through their decisions—that AFN had fought for many, many years—and it showed there was discrimination. To have Canada, you know, do to do a judicial review, of course, that sets back reconciliation, of course, that wasn't right, and proper, and I think they got it, I think the Crown got it, which is why they're now working at a table now to come up with the compensation, and the processes to fix a system that is not very conducive to keeping children at home, in loving, caring homes. So, there is work progressing now, and, you know, through good leaders like Regional Chief for Manitoba, Cindy Woodhouse, you know, things are moving forward. And so, there is hope that it will get resolved sooner than later. And I think it's timely. It's time that we send a strong message once that's resolved.

Omar Sachedina
Helping to facilitate those talks, of course, is also former Senator Murray Sinclair, who also was the former Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls To Action. One of them was for the Pope, His Holiness, to apologize on home soil in Canada. Now, data on that is still up in the air; we don't know when that will happen, but I know that you were part of, during your time as AFN National Chief, you were instrumental in getting, you know, basically on the Pope's schedule, or the itinerary, of getting those meetings to happen now. That delegation was actually, I think it was supposed to leave in just a matter of a couple of days, December 17th. We know, based on what AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald told us a couple of days ago, that that trip has been postponed because of Omicron, the new variant of concern. I'm just interested in the backstory. How does one get a meeting with His Holiness, the Pope? I mean, do you call him up and say, “Pope Francis, we need to speak to you about a very sensitive topic; when can we get on your schedule?”

Chief Perry Bellegarde
I wish it was that easy. It took five or six years of constant working, you know, working locally, raising that internationally, to get that audience with His Holiness. And Pope Francis is a very holy man, a very spiritual man, a very powerful individual, a very special individual, which is why we wanted to seek an audience with him, because TRC Call to Action Number 5 , it basically says that we, the survivors of Residential Schools, and families, expect him to come to Canada to make the apology for the role of the Roman Catholic Church, in terms of the hurt, and the pain, and all the abuses suffered against First Nations people through those institutions; that's Call to Action, TRC Number 5 . And so, it took five or six years with my team, you know, working with Marie Wilson, Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, and Murray Sinclair, and myself, and even the National Congress of American Indians—Brian Cladoosby signing a joint letter five years ago requesting this, because it affected First Nations people not only in Canada, but the States as well.

Omar Sachedina
Right, what took so long, Chief Bellegarde? The five, six years?

Chief Perry Bellegarde
You've got to build relationships, Omar. You’ve got to build relationships not only with the Vatican, the Holy See, the Nuncio, the Papal Nuncio, Luigi Bonazzi, here in Canada. My wife Valerie and I, we went to his place many times to build relationships. Midnight Mass twice, you know, building relationships. Meeting with the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops, a very influential institution, building relationships in the last five years, working towards that audience. And we knew, December 17th, 18th, 19th, December 20th, were the dates picked; one hour for AFN delegation, one hour for the Métis National Council delegation, one hour for the Inuit ITK delegation, and then coming all together on the fourth day, all three organizations with their delegations to meet, so it was four hours set aside. That was planned, we knew that, and now because of the variant, it's been postponed. But I see that happening, the trip with the delegations going over. Myself as former National Chief, and our team, worked very hard for the last five or six years to bring it that far. It was a really pleasant surprise when it was announced he was willing to come to Canada, because that was the ultimate objective. And so, he jumped ahead of us, which is fine. He's a very important individual, it will mean so much when he does come. And yes, we're going to keep pushing and advocating for that apology, because that would, from a man with such influence, I think that would really go a long way for healing for the First Nations survivors, and their families and Canada's as a country.

Omar Sacchedina
And the fact that you persisted to get those meetings for five, six years, says something about your leadership, your level of tenacity, your passion, your dedication, your perseverance. What have you learned most about leadership during that time? Because the AFN, of course, is a body with numerous nations, sometimes with competing interests, so you have to navigate that; and then you also have to navigate a separate relationship with the Crown; and also the federal government as well. There are a lot of competing priorities, a lot of relationships, everyone has an opinion. What was the biggest lesson for you, would you say?

Chief Perry Bellegarde
I think, Omar, the biggest lesson is to take the time to listen to people, to take the time to listen, and try to understand where they're coming from. And for our Assembly of First Nations is 634 First Nations across Canada, there's over 60 different Nations or tribes, different levels; there's modern treaties, there's historic treaties, you know, there's First Nations with no treaties at all, so they still have an unextinguished aboriginal title rights and jurisdiction to work through. So, the AFN, I said, has to be relevant to First Nations issues and concerns. It should be respectful of the diversity that's there, and should be responsive to the issues, concerns, and needs identified; and then building the relationship between First Nations, right across Canada, but that's the offence and the lobby advocacy organization. So, as you demonstrate the ability to listen, and get to where people are at, and then apply that same thing to the Federal Crown and the Provincial, Territorial Crowns as well. You have to build relationships with each other.

Omar Sachedina
What do you what do you mean get to where people are at?

Chief Perry Bellegarde
Well, people are at all different levels. So, some are ready to embrace the right to self-determination, self-government, some have capacity issues that still need to be worked on, some are ready to go beyond the Indian Act, you know, and embrace the right to self-government self-determination. It's a full box of rights in Section 35; existing Aboriginal treaty rights recognized and affirmed, inherent rights of self-government is there. So, embracing that, getting to where people are at. And one of the questions, because of that diversity—somebody asked me this long ago—how do you build unity? And I said, the best way to build unity amongst our people is put our ceremonies first; I'll go to your Potlatches, I'll go to your Sweat Lodges, you come to our Sundance Lodges, come to our Sweats too, because they're all little different, you know, they're similar, but they're all different. So, build upon putting ceremony and our Elders teachings first, and that will really bring about the unity that's required. You know, putting love, and respect, and kindness—our Seven Teachings—truth, honesty, love, respect, courage, wisdom, humility, are always things that are embedded in our ceremonies, and our languages.

Omar Sachedina
I know hearing the tribute videos, from, you know, various people who are close to you, as somebody who is extremely humble, may have been a little bit awkward for you. In fact, you said that while we were rehearsing before the program today. And I'll ask you a question that is maybe a little bit awkward as well, because I know you don't like to sort of pat yourself on the back. But during your time as AFN National Chief, what are you most proud of when you look back?

Chief Perry Bellegarde
Good question. I think, you know, it's almost seven years there, because I filled in, there's two terms, and a little bit, so about seven years as the AFN National Chief. I'm proud that we brought the relevancy of the organization to new heights. I'm proud that people across Canada, we're starting to talk about these issues, because they're not only First Nations issues, but they’re also Canada's issues. You know, dealing with the gap that we talk about, the socio-economic gap that needs to be closed, you know, there's a huge gap, and it's a stubborn gap that's been there for many, many years. And so, getting that dialogue amongst the premiers, amongst the Prime Minister and cabinet, amongst the average Canadians, that you need continued investments in education and water and infrastructure and housing, in order to close that gap. I'm proud that that conversation’s there, I'm proud that people are embracing this thing called reconciliation. But you know, I've said this before, that the 94, Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are a roadmap to reconciliation. And there's a road map, and there's a map to the top of that mountain. But we all, as people, as Canadians, as First Nations and non-Indigenous people, we have to do the work, we have to do the climbing. And so, I'm proud that that's there now. There's a roadmap, people are talking about it, that education and awareness leads to understanding, leads to action. People want that change now. So, I'm proud of that. You can go off on the five bills, you know, the five important pieces of legislation $45 billion investments over six fiscal years, those were all things, but I think that awareness and consciousness about these issues amongst Canada, from coast-to-coast-to-coast, is there, and I'm proud of that.

Omar Sachedina
You've already had such an illustrious career as a human rights advocate, as an Indigenous leader, as a leader in this country. What's next for Chief Perry Bellegarde?

Chief Perry Bellegarde
You know, Omar, that's a good question. You know, I'm researching different companies, different boards, that are like-minded in our values. You know, one of the biggest issues we all have to grapple with is, of course, is climate change. You know, coming out of COP26, you know, the need to look at sustainable economic development. You know, so any company, and any institution that's willing to embrace that vision, you know, I'd like to be part of that. You know, all companies in the private sector are dealing with, you know, the ESG, environment, social governance pieces, and how they put in place their risk management strategies, and their investment strategies, and involving all those things. So, I'm just reviewing different companies, doing some research, and I think in the new year, decisions will be made. We'll see what next steps are.

Omar Sachedina
I want to conclude, Chief Bellegarde, with a quote that you made in 2019—you know you're famous when people start quoting you—but in a speech at Massey Hall to a gathering of Lieutenant Governors and Indigenous leaders, you said, “We must have the Canada that sees our Knowledge Keepers deliver all that our ancestors taught us, safely into the hands of our young people.” An aspirational message. How close are we key to achieving that ideal?

Chief Perry Bellegarde
Well, our young people, you know, I've said before, that the best story about Canada has yet to be written. And it's our children and grandchildren, and those yet unborn, that will be writing that story. And delivering our Elders’ knowledge into the hands of our young people, because they want a Canada in a world that's bright with hope, that there is clean air, clean land, clean water to sustain us. And our Elders’ worldview. And people wonder what's our Elders worldview, what’s an Indigenous worldview? And I'll close with this, in the sense that our worldview is this: that every day, we give thanks to the Creator for this day, our life, and our minds that he has given us. We give thanks for Mother Earth for all she gives us to Father Sky, Grandmother Moon, Grandfather Sun, and our relatives, the Star People. We give thanks for our four-legged relatives, the ones that fly, the ones that swim, the ones that crawl; we give thanks for the male plants and the female plants, and we give thanks and acknowledge those Four Grandmothers that look after the waters, the rainwater, freshwater saltwater, and when life comes in a woman, water breaks, were part of that family, as a two leggeds. And that's our worldview. And I believe if our young people, and decision makers in the public sector and private sector can embrace that worldview, that will influence policy and legislation going forward, so that you can have sustainable economic development and growth, you can have a balance between the environment, the economy, and to me, that's hopeful. And our young people, if our Elders can pass that on, and incorporate our young people, they will espouse that, they will give that forward life, meaning, and anything our future leaders, the Prime Ministers, the premiers, the CEOs, the boards of directors, that's what I see so hopeful. And that's why I mentioned that to the Governor General's Lieutenant Governors. And that's the hope that I like to leave people with, that the young people will get that, our worldview, and incorporate that, it's a better country and a better world for all of us.

Omar Sachedina
What a beautiful parting thought. And really reflects our interconnectedness as humanity, and really gives us a lot to think about. I can't thank you enough for your time,for everything you've done for this country and continue to do for this country. You are really a Nation Builder in the truest sense of the word. Chief Bellegarde, thank you so much.

Chief Perry Bellegarde
Thanks, Omar. And you know, I want to thank Kelly Jackson, and Gordon McIvor, and Antoinette Tummillo, for all the stuff they're doing at the Empire Club for this very great honour they bestowed on me.

Omar Sachedina
It's an incredible team. Chief Bellegarde, thank you so much. Up next we'll hear from Louise Halfe - Sky Dancer, who became Canada's Parliamentary Poet Laureate on January 1st of this year. Ms. Halfe is the ninth poet to hold this office, and has composed this special tribute to Chief bellevarde.

Louise Halfe – Sky Dancer, Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate

The Warrior, Perry Bellegarde
The boys whooped as they sawed and chop wood for the winter months, the woodstove warming the cabin. They drew their buckets from the ice water, sieved in pillowcases for drinking, dishwashing and bathing. Beside their father's workbench, they learned to skin beaver, muskrats, weasels, and stretch pelts that brought their groceries. When he left for the North to dance the night sky, the six boys hovered by the woodstove, their mother, the braid that lived throughout their lives. From the rez, to school, to university, he carried a satchel, a bundle filled with the voices of many. His father's spirit by his side, his mother's words, carried by the whispering wind, always carry love and kindness. I have heard him speak, the Oskapewis who never forgot whom he served at home, regionally, nationally, internationally. A man of vision, he moved forward with those who went before him, head and heart connected, his spirit and words danced in ceremony. [Remarks in Cree]. You've brought pride to your people.

Omar Sachedina
Our final tributes come from David Dandeneau, Board Chair of the Manito Ahbee Festival, Lisa Meeches, one of the most dynamic and respected producers in the film and television industry, and proud Ojibwe from Long Plain First Nation. Adrian Burns, Chair of the National Art Centre Board of Directors and Natan Obed, President Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

Video Message from David Dandeneau, Board Chair, Manito Ahbee Festival
Bonjour, je m’appelle David Dandeneu. Je suis un fier Métis de la Nation Métis de la Rivière Rouge. Au nom du festival Manito Ahbee, j’apporte toutes nos félicitations à toi, Perry Bellegarde, Ancien Chef de l’Assemblée des Premières Nations. As chair of the board of the Manito Ahbee Festival, we thank you for your wise words, and respectful actions, when you were Grand Chief for the National Assembly of the First Nations. Merci de ton leadership, ta vision de rassembleur, et surtout, ta perseverance. Merci. Miigwetch.

Video Message from Lisa Meeches, Founding Partner, Eagle Vision
[Remarks in Anishinaabemowin]. I bring greetings from Treaty 1. My name is Lisa Meeches, and welcome. Tonight, we bring congratulations to Perry Bellegarde, our former National Chief and my friend. He's done so much for the arts and culture sector, so much for my journey as a filmmaker, and so, tonight we're celebrating him. I'm reminded of his role as National Chief many, many times; that's how we know him. But I know him to be a ceremony man, a man of standard, a statesman, if you will. He's always got a song in his heart. So, from the bottom of my heart, Perry, I want to share these words for you, and with you. “Nobody wins afraid of losing, and the hard roads are the ones worth choosing. Someday we'll look back and smile and know what was worth every mile.” Congratulations, Perry. Miigwetch.

Video Message from Adrian Burns, Chair, National Arts Centre Board of Directors
Dear Perry, I joined the chorus of tributes, to let you know how grateful we are at the National Art Centre. You've been amongst the first to support the idea of Indigenous theatre at the NEC, and you've shown leadership in a myriad of ways; from having parliament adopt the Indigenous Languages Act, to ensuring there's a federal statutory holiday on September 30th to mark a National Day of Truth And Reconciliation. You've been an incredible voice for Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island. As we are now in a new phase of your life, I wish you and Valerie health, and some time to enjoy yourselves. You're always welcome to attend a performance with us right here at the NAC. Best to both of you.

Video Message from Natan Obed, President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
Hello, I'm Natan Obed, President of Tapiriit Kanatami, the National Representational Organization for Canada’s 65,000 Inuit. I would like to congratulate Perry Bellegarde on his award, Nation Builder of the Year for the Empire Club. I think that it is well deserved. And I've been very fortunate to work with Perry as in his role as National Chief over the last six years. He has always showed a dogged determination to uphold Indigenous peoples’ human rights, and also to really push for reconciliation, for fairness, and for equity for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis in this country. I want to congratulate you, Perry, on this well-deserving award, and look forward to all the work that's to come in your career. Nakurmiik.

Kelly Jackson
And now our founding presenting sponsor of The Nation Builder Award, IBK Capital Corp President and CEO, Michael White, will offer today's appreciation remarks.

Note of Appreciation by Michael White, President & CEO, IBK Capital Corp
Madam President, distinguished head table guests, fellow members. and guests of the Empire Club of Canada, I have the pleasure to express our formal thank you to our key speakers and congratulate this year's Nation Builder of the Year Award recipient, Perry Bellegarde, a First Nations leader and human rights advocate. The Empire Club of Canada celebrates the third-annual Nation Builder of the Year award, and to quote from the Empire Club’s website, “the Nation Builder of the Year Award formalizes what the Empire Club of Canada has been doing since 1903, celebrating and providing a platform for people who are building our country. Since its founding over a century ago, the Empire Club has played a pivotal role in many of our country's major milestones. That's why the focus of this award, the Nation Builder of the Year Award, is on efforts by a Canadian individual or group of individuals who are making a significant contribution to our country.” Perry Bellegarde has done just that, and continues to do so. He is known as one who builds people up, one who strives to unite, rather than divide. Canada is a reflection of its people, and to quote Perry Bellegarde, speaking in Ottawa late last year. “We need to know we have shared history, and it's not always bright and light around that shared history. We have to tell the truth, and embrace that truth, as hard as it is, because more importantly, now we have a shared future.” His stellar record has contributed to Canada being a stronger nation, through his steadfast advocacy of First Nations and Indigenous peoples’ rights and priorities. Please join me in a warm and special thank you to all that have made today possible, including the sponsors, the award committee, today's speakers, and of course, to the recipient of the Nation Builder of the Year award, 2021, Perry Bellegarde. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. May God's healing presence flow to all parts of Canada. God bless Perry, God bless the First Nations, and God bless a shared future for Canada.

Omar Sachedina
For final closing performance, we're honoured to present a leading company of contemporary Indigenous performance in Canada, and worldwide, Red Sky Performance. Now in their 21st year, Red Sky’s work highlights the originality and the scope of Indigenous-made work here in Canada. The work presented today, called “Trace,” is a contemporary dance, inspired by Anishinaabe Sky Stories, offering a glimpse into our origin, as well as our future.

[Performance by Red Sky Performance]

Omar Sachedina
What an incredibly powerful performance to conclude today's events, celebrating the rich history and traditions of our Indigenous peoples. Well, Kelly, the time has certainly, it's just flown by. I think we'll have to bring Chief Bellegarde back to talk about his many future accomplishments; he's done so much already, and it sounds like he has an incredible future ahead. And I want to thank you, as well, and the Empire Club, for the great work that you do, in bringing the conversations that matter most to Canadians, and doing your own kind of nation-building in your own way. So, I'm deeply grateful for that, and deeply grateful to you for having me be a part of today's program as well. Thank you.

Kelly Jackson Thank you so much, Omar. And, you know, thank you for your time today, and for being a part of this event. It was really special to have you here as part of our team today.

Omar Sachedina
I appreciate it. Thank you.

Concluding Remarks by Kelly Jackson
CTV has been a major partner in supporting the Nation Builder of the Year ceremonies, since the first one in 2019. And the Empire Club is most grateful to Omar, and the entire CTV family. And to Chief Bellegarde, thank you for your leadership. I want you to know that we do not see this award today in any way is a “Lifetime Achievement Award.” We know this past year was only another chapter in an incredible life story, that still has many more great chapters to be written. It was a pleasure to host you today, and to celebrate this important moment with you. Thank you, once again, to all our sponsors, our guests and performers, the Organizing Committee, led by Co-Chairs Antoinette Tummillo, and Gordon McIvor and everyone tuning in today or later to watch on demand. We look forward to seeing you again next year.

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2021 Nation Builder of the Year


9 December, 2021 2021 Nation Builder of the Year