Original Published on Jul 06, 2022 at 17:35

By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com

As RoseAnne Archibald successfully fended off suspension from her position as national chief July 5, she continued to call for the dismantling of the colonial constructs that make up the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).

While some chiefs at the AFN’s annual general assembly in Vancouver may not be willing to go quite that far, many agreed changes are needed to the organization.

The AFN consists of a secretariat, also known as the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB), the corporation, and the national executive, which is made up of the national chief, regional chiefs and chairs of the special councils. According to the AFN Charter, the national executive serves as the oversight body for the organization as members of the Board of the NIB.

“I have a sacred moral obligation to speak the truth. The AFN secretariat and the regional chiefs and the NIB corporation… is a colonial structure,” said Archibald.

“It follows non-Indigenous laws. It’s not grounded in our culture. It’s not grounded in our values. It’s not grounded in our traditions. It is a non-Indigenous corporation. And chiefs, that’s why I came forward. The current structure is a threat. It is a danger… to your sovereignty, to your jurisdiction, to your rights, to the survival of your communities,” said the national chief.

Archibald accused the regional chiefs of protecting the NIB at all costs, which she said resulted in “colonial lateral violence against me and, by extension, all of you as chiefs because you put me here. I am your representative. I am your servant. I only exist because all of you put me in this position. So an attack on me is an attack on you.”

Archibald said the corruption at the AFN, the playing out of intergenerational trauma and colonial lateral violence brought on by the Indian residential school system could only be addressed by changing the organization.

“I do have a plan. I do have a path out of this. We need to establish a new corporation based in our culture and values, based in our seven sacred teachings and that corporation will create a construct for staff to be healthy, safe and have a work environment where they will celebrate going to. Right now, there’s so much fear in the AFN and it predated me,” said Archibald.

She said that if the regional chiefs chose to continue to sit as part of the administration instead of joining a new chiefs leadership council, that new council would be populated by chiefs-in-assembly instead.

“Our new AFN will exist to do several things. (It will) create a national space where First Nations can participate in a forum to engage in dialogue and make decisions on your shared goals, to facilitate the reclamation, revitalization, and evolution of what I’m calling an inter-national political structure: Nations that you are all made out of, not individual bands, but nations. That’s who you really are,” said Archibald.

Although Archibald said a markedly different AFN will be able to address the concerns of corruption and a safe workplace environment, if not alleviate it, some chiefs and proxies noted that policies were already in place.

Kwanlin Dun First Nation Chief Doris Bill pointed to Resolution 13, “Becoming A Role Model in Ending Sexual Orientation and Gender-Based Discrimination Within the Assembly of First Nations,” which was adopted in 2020.

“Had that resolution been implemented we would not be here discussing this today,” said Bill.

That resolution called for the creation of a three-member independent investigative review that “is financially resourced and supported by and given unfettered access to the AFN Executive Committee and AFN administration to carry out the review’s objective” including Codes of Conduct and addressing specific allegations on systemic sexual orientation and gender-based discrimination.

Doreen Cardinal, proxy for Chapleau Cree First Nation, said that the AFN Charter already had an oversight body.

The Confederacy of Nations, which has been inactive for 20 years, “was created to review, interpret and enforce decisions and directions of the First Nations-in-Assembly and provide ongoing direction to the AFN and the Executive Committee between Assemblies,” according to the AFN website.

“The fact remains there’s an essential organ that’s not operating at the AFN and that organ is put in place as an oversight committee to watch over the executive chiefs and the national chiefs and all of the issues I think we’re experiencing today may not be an issue here had that organ been properly funded and supported. So I’m asking the AFN to start following their charter,” said Chapleau.

However, the fate of the Confederacy of Nations, which falls under the work of the AFN’s Charter Renewal Committee, has been put on hold once more.

Two competing resolutions dealing with the confederacy—one to remove if from the AFN Charter and the other to maintain it—were withdrawn from the floor prior to dealing with the national chief’s suspension. The resolutions were withdrawn with the intention of undertaking the work necessary to develop an effective oversight body.

Squamish Nation Chairperson Khelselim represents British Columbia on the Charter Renewal Committee and said they hadn’t met for one year because of the inability to meet quorum.

“I believe in the power of our nations coming together. A power for us to set the agenda with the government, to achieve results for our people. I want this organization to be the most effective advocacy organization in the world. And it won’t be because this moment right now has highlighted a really important problem: The AFN needs to be fixed. It needs to be fixed,” said Khelselim.

Proxy Mark Arcand, chief of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, agreed.

“I think we have to change this entire organization to do what’s best for our people and do exactly how we call it, being united,” said Arcand.

He said that also meant doing away with the name Brotherhood in the NIB. He said it needed to be changed “to show equality.”

Chiefs will consider one more emergency resolutions dealing with Archibald’s status.

The Investigation and Audit of the AFN’s Financial and Management Practises resolution calls for a third-party forensic audit into the previous eight years of financial activity at the AFN and a third-party investigation into the organization’s workplace climate.

The third emergency resolution, a non-confidence vote calling for “National Chief RoseAnne Archibald be immediately removed from office and that all pay and benefits be stopped effective immediately,” was withdrawn July 6.

The AFN AGA is a three-day hybrid session being held in Vancouver and virtually and concludes July 7.

This item reprinted with permission from Windspeaker.com, Edmonton, Alberta