(Ottawa, ON) – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde will speak at the annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) on Tuesday, October 17 to build support for an Indigenous Chapter in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that will ensure First Nations rights are respected and upheld in any new agreement. The NCAI is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the United States.
“I want to bring the message to our brothers and sisters south of the border – a border that we did not create – that we can stand together to uphold our rights in our homelands,” said National Chief Bellegarde. “First Nations were here before the borders, with our own treaties guiding territorial control, trade, and diplomatic relations. Today, international agreements can affect our lands, our lives, and our abilities to trade and visit with one another. Our inherent rights, Treaty rights and international rights in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be respected throughout the negotiations and in any final agreement. The NCAI has indicated it supports an Indigenous Chapter in NAFTA and I look forward to meeting with them to discuss next steps.”
National Chief Bellegarde is an advisor on Canada’s NAFTA Council and led the call for an Indigenous Chapter in a new agreement. Canada has agreed to support this. An Indigenous Chapter would, among other things, protect Indigenous rights; ensure Indigenous representation from all three NAFTA parties; improve economic opportunities for Indigenous peoples; and include a mandate to implement the obligations of the chapter. The National Chief wants language clearly stating that nothing in NAFTA prevents Canada from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to Indigenous peoples.
“Protecting First Nations inherent rights and Treaty rights in NAFTA is of the upmost importance and that is why I agreed to be a member of the NAFTA Council,” said National Chief Bellegarde. “I am meeting with the NCAI to ensure we protect and respect the rights of all the First Peoples of Turtle Island. The three countries in these negotiations have all endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and must honour it in the negotiations and the outcomes.”
The National Congress of American Indians 74th Annual Convention and Marketplace takes place October 15-20 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Delegates and observers will gather under the theme “We are Strong Nations.” The NCAI was founded in 1944.
The AFN is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada. Follow AFN on Twitter @AFN_Updates.