Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde is calling on First Nations people to get out and vote in this fall's federal election, so that Aboriginal issues become election issues that will not be ignored.

Bellegarde says there are currently 51 ridings across the country where Aboriginal voters could sway the vote if enough of them go to the polls.

"If First Nations exercise their inherent right to vote, it could have a huge impact. It could be the difference between a majority or minority government," Bellegarde told CTV News Channel from Montreal Thursday, where he was address the AFN's general assembly.

The AFN chief says it's important for First Nations to vote to ensure that Aboriginal issues move front and centre on all party platforms.

"We can't be forgotten anymore," Bellegarde said. "Historically, members of Parliament who were running thought, 'Well, First Nations don't vote, so let's not really be concerned about their issues.' We want to send the strong message this time around that our votes matter."

Bellegarde delivered the same message this week to the AFN general assembly, calling on chiefs to urge their communities to get out and vote.

Asked what he thought was the biggest issue facing First Nations people in Canada, Bellegarde responded that it was the huge standard of living gap between Aboriginal communities and the rest of Canada.

"Closing the gap is the key thing. There has to be investments in housing, education and training," he said. He added that the the gap is a stain on all of Canada.

"Our issues are everybody's issues in Canada. If we can work together to close the gap that's a win for this country," he said.

Neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt attended the AFN's three-day conference, which wraps up Thursday. Bellegarde says their absence is disappointing.

"We reached out to all five party leaders; and three showed up," he said.

"… When the chiefs of Canada come together, the prime minister should be here. The minister should be here, because that's who they're working with and for.

"We have to collaboratively work together and continually reach out. We're not going to agree on everything but let's come to the table and have a respectful dialogue and focus on the two or three things we can agree on and move those issues forward."