Education Challenges and Opportunities for First Nations and Canada
February 8, 2008
Phil Fontaine, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations
Dr. Phil Fontaine (LU honorary Doctor of Laws) has devoted his life to improving the quality of life for First Nations citizens. He was born in 1944 at Sagkeeng First Nation, 150 kilometres north of Winnipeg. He attended residental schools in Sagkeeng and Assinaboia, later emerging as a leading critic of abuse in that system.
In the 1970s, Phil Fontaine served two terms as chief of his own Sagkeeng First Nation, promoting autonomy and treaty rights. After a stint in the Yukon working for the federal government, he returned home and completed his Bachelor of Arts in political science at the University of Manitoba in 1981. In 1982, he was elected Manitoba's Vice Chief for the newly formed Assembly of First Nations.
Following the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord, Phil was elected Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, serving three consecutive terms from 1991 to 1997. In 1997, Phil was elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, succeeding Ovide Mercredi. As National Chief from 1997 to 2000, he fought to protect the rights, treaty obligations and land claims of First Nations people. He became the first aboriginal leader to address the Organization of American States.
In 2002, he was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Indian Claims Commission, where he helped resolve several significant land claims. In July 2003, he was again elected for a three - year term as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Currently, he is negotiating changes in federal legislation on First Nations governance.
In 1996, he received the national Aboriginal Achievement Award for community service. He has received honorary degrees from the Royal Military College and Brock University. In 2004, he was made a Member of the Order of Manitoba.
As Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine is now based in Ottawa. He is the proud father of two children and a Mishoom to five grandchildren.