Ghislain Picard to seek top job at Assembly of First Nations

Ghislain Picard says there is a future for the Assembly of First Nations, otherwise he would not be running for the top job — a position left vacant last May following the sudden resignation of Shawn Atleo.

Picard says First Nations have 'one common enemy: the Canadian government'

Ghislain Picard says he is going to run for the top job at the Assembly of First Nations. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Ghislain Picard has announced he is going to seek the top job at the Assembly of First Nations, a national organization whose future was called into question by First Nations leaders following the sudden resignation of Shawn Atleo.

In a phone interview with CBC News, Picard said he would not be running for national chief if he didn't think there was a role for Canada's largest aboriginal organization to play in the reconciliation of First Nations people.

Atleo quit last May amid criticism from First Nations leaders that he had grown too close to the federal government given his support for the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act.

His resignation exposed divisions among First Nations leaders both within and outside the AFN.

"Although I understand that reconciliation with Canadians and governments around us is important, what I find even more important is the reconciliation of First Nations."

Picard said he is prepared to take a hard look at the structure of the AFN and see how it can best meet the needs of the people it represents.

"It's clear in my mind there's a future for the Assembly of First Nations."

'One common enemy'

"For the lack of a better term," Picard said, "we have one common enemy: the Canadian government —​ in the sense that we have to find ways to engage the present and future governments, but not solely on their conditions."

Picard, a veteran politician, has been doing the job of national chief since July when First Nations leaders chose him to replace Atleo during the AFN's annual general assembly in Halifax pending a new election in December.

Until recently, Picard was the AFN regional chief for First Nations in Quebec and Labrador, where he worked for 22 years.

Under his leadership, the AFNQL launched a judicial review to overturn the federal government's aboriginal education bill. The case is currently before the courts.

Picard said while the government may have consulted Atleo on the bill, it failed to consult First Nations at large — despite assertions by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt to the contrary.

"Chiefs across the country have supported the notion that an agreement, if you will, with one individual doesn't make it an agreement with all First Nations."

"We have agreed that in order for the process to move forward, the government of Canada has to withdraw the bill as it stands today and reengage in a way that is acceptable to First Nations while representing the diversity across the country," Picard said.

The government has said the aboriginal education bill will remain on hold until it receives the support of the AFN.

Picard recently denounced the government's decision not to call a national public inquiry into the case of missing and murdered aboriginal women as "disrespectful."

He has also opposed the federal government's First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which makes it mandatory for First Nations bands to post online the expenses and salaries of their chiefs and councillors.​

While he is supportive of more accountability, he said the Act calls for disclosure of information well above and beyond that which is required of other levels of governments.

Picard said he made the announcement, after several weeks of reflection, during a meeting in Quebec City today with Chiefs of the First Nations of Quebec-Labrador.

The AFN will elect a new national chief in Winnipeg this December 9-11.

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