National chief of the Assembly of First Nations to speak at York

Ask and he will come. It worked for the Osgoode Indigenous Students’ Association (OISA) at York. Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is coming to speak at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School simply because OISA asked him to.

Fontaine will speak on Friday, Jan. 25, at 10:30am in the Moot Court Room, 101 Osgoode Hall Law School, about some of the legal issues facing First Nations people today. The event is free and open to everyone.

"We are all very excited about him coming," said Hazel Herrington, OISA’s internal and external relations coordinator. "We are committed to bringing Aboriginal issues into the school."

Fontaine, an Ojibway from the Sagkeeng First Nation some 150 km north of Winnipeg, is serving his third term as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Left: Phil Fontaine

"OISA has a Visiting Elder Speaker Series which brings Aboriginal elders into Osgoode to share Aboriginal teachings," said Herrington. "Having Phil Fontaine come to Osgoode seemed like a logical extension of the work we are already involved in."

One of Fontaine’s first forays into advocating for First Nations rights came in his youth with the Canadian Indian Youth Council. He was then elected chief of Sagkeeng in 1972, a position he held for two consecutive terms.

With his guidance, the Sagkeeng First Nation was the first in Canada to have a locally-controlled education system and the first to have an Alcohol and Addictions Treatment Centre on its reserve. Sagkeeng also had one of the first Child & Family Services agencies.

Following his stint as chief of Sagkeeng, Fontaine moved with his family to the Yukon and served as the federal government’s regional director general of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. When he returned to Manitoba in 1980, he was elected as the Manitoba regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations. Then in 1991, he became the elected grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, a position he held for three consecutive terms.

Fontaine was first elected national chief of the Assembly of First Nations in 1997. In that position, he helped bring about the 1998 federal government’s Statement of Reconciliation, including a $350-million Healing Fund.

After his three-year term as chief was complete, Fontaine was appointed chief commissioner of the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) and it was in that role that he was instrumental in resolving the Kahkewistihaw First Nation’s outstanding 1907 land claim resulting in a $94.6-million settlement.

He left his position with the ICC and was then elected two more times for the position of national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, in 2003 and 2006, where he continues to work for the rights of First Nations people.

Fontaine holds several honorary doctorates and is a member of the Order of Manitoba.

OISA’s objectives are to promote legal education for indigenous people in a culturally appropriate learning environment, to raise awareness and provide support for indigenous initiatives within Osgoode and to support indigenous students within Osgoode. OISA also supports faculty’s advocacy or initiatives for the inclusion of indigenous perspectives, historical context, community experiences, knowledge, healing, cultural wisdom and insights within the school and curriculum. It also initiates formal and informal links between Osgoode and indigenous communities.

For more information about OISA, click here.