Thunder Bay·Video

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde gives pep talk to students

The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations made a surprise appearance at a career fair for Aboriginal teens in Thunder Bay on Thursday and delivered a rousing speech.

"Don't be ashamed to be a First Nations person," Bellegarde tells teens in Thunder Bay

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The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations made a surprise appearance at a career fair for Aboriginal teens in Thunder Bay on Thursday and delivered a rousing speech encouraging them to stay in school.

"Don't be ashamed to be a First Nations person," Perry Bellegarde shouted into a microphone. "We're breaking down that stereotype, the stereotype of Indians are dumb, stupid, lazy, drunk on welfare, that's not it anymore for us. We're becoming educated and we're becoming stronger."

Many of the First Nations students at the career fair come to Thunder Bay for their education because there are no high schools in their small, remote communities.

Bellegarde was in the northwestern Ontario city this week to give the keynote address at a First Nations education conference. He said federally-funded First Nations students receive 43 per cent less funding than their counterparts in the provincial system — a gap he hopes to close by political lobbying.

"It's too important an issue to leave on the shelf," he said. "It's too important an issue to not address it."

Bellegarde told chiefs last month that the Prime Minister informed him the controversial First Nations Education Act will not move forward.

He said First Nations may resort to a legal battle to ensure equitable education funding for their students.