Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
National Chief RoseAnne Archibald’s vision to restructure the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) hit a major roadblock when it was revealed Dec. 9 that the resolution entitled “Solidification of political and administrative roles at the Assembly of First Nations” had not passed.
Discussion on the resolution—well over an hour’s worth—took place on Dec. 8 on the second day of the AFN’s Special Chiefs Assembly (SCA). However, because of the need to verify voter identities, the results were not released until the following day.
The vote count on the resolution will not be made public. However, for resolutions to pass, they needed to receive 60 per cent support from the day’s quorum. On any of the three days, quorum at the SCA never reached 10 per cent of the 634 First Nations represented by the AFN.
Archibald provided a half-hour slide presentation to outline her strategic plan for the organization.
“Rather than reacting to a government agenda or forces outside of our communities, we must drive the processes that will transform the lives of our citizens,” she said.
“This whole presentation is about creating a strategic direction complemented with a proposed renewed Healing Path Forward accord and the positive and evolutionary change needed at the AFN which will result in a stronger and healthier organization.” A Healing Path Forward document was presented by the AFN for the federal election in September. The draft accord has not been released to Windspeaker.com.
She said that because of AFN’s existing structure, the organization had become one that was corporate driven and not politically driven. She wanted to change that and the resolution called for “creating healthy boundaries to create a delineation between the political and administrative roles and functions of the AFN.”
This would have been accomplished in part by establishing a National Leadership Council by July 2022.
Archibald explained she had updated the strategic plan that had been her platform when she ran for national chief earlier in the year. She consulted with the national chief’s office staff in July and then presented the draft strategic plan to regional chiefs at a retreat in October. She said regional chiefs had asked for more time to consult with their chiefs and she was awaiting their feedback.
That feedback came with clear dissension from three regional chiefs who were also proxies for the SCA. Only chiefs and proxies can vote or speak.
Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse led the charge and was supported by Terry Teegee (British Columbia) and Bobby Cameron (Saskatchewan).
Woodhouse said the resolution was presented at the executive meeting, but no regional chief moved it or seconded it.
“Nobody knew what to say, so we didn’t say anything about it. We agree that there needs to be change, but we need to work together as an executive to come up with a better plan …This will remove all of us as regional chiefs,” said Woodhouse.
She said the regional chiefs were on a chat forum during the SCA and had voiced concerns.
“If we’re not needed as regional chiefs and this becomes just the national chief’s body, then why are we here if we won’t have authority to speak in these meetings for our regions?” she said.
“A lot of our regional chiefs speaking up now is to have an idea of what those roles are,” said Teegee. “I do agree with the intent that politics and also administration and those types of things need to be separate… I think the best way forward is to have those meetings with the executive.”
“We would like to say this as regional chiefs, there was and there is still some concerns about this particular resolution,” said Cameron.
However, Archibald said the National Leadership Council would comprise the regional chiefs and would allow them to serve as political representatives solely, and not have to split their time as they are doing now with administrative functions. She said the NLC would determine the direction of the work of AFN on all political issues. She called this change the “next evolution.”
Archibald added that the delineation between the political body and the administration meant that a regional chief could not interfere politically with administration and decide where resources went and who could receive contracts.
Regional chiefs also took exception to the draft Healing Path Forward accord being presented to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even though the executive had yet to see it.
“The accord, first of all, it was hand-delivered to me as a hard copy just before meeting in Kamloops… This initiative, one of the things I brought up, was that I was concerned about this plan going ahead because it wasn’t developed with the executive,” said Teegee.
Trudeau travelled to Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc to meet with Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir and Kamloops Indian Residential School survivors on Oct. 18.
Archibald said she presented the draft accord to Trudeau then because “the process of timelines have been pretty tight.”
Woodhouse’s voice was joined by other Manitoba chiefs. Chief David Monias of Pimicikamak Cree Nation said Archibald was establishing an “adhoc chiefs’ committee” in place of regional chiefs. Chief Cornell McLean of Lake Manitoba First Nation said Archibald was not respecting the sovereignty of First Nations.
However, the resolution did have its supporters.
Jeffrey Jacobs, deputy chief of Curve Lake First Nation (Ontario), moved the resolution, saying it would “allow for focus on a stronger political agenda. It will also allow the executive committee members to spend their time engaging in political advocacy and priority issues affecting First Nations across Turtle Island. It is essential to have well-defined roles and responsibilities…(and) there needs to be a distinction in the administrative and political work that is done at AFN.”
Chief Roberta Joseph of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation (Yukon) said Archibald’s plan allowed chiefs to hold her accountable as well as providing direction for the AFN. Kukpi7 Judy Wilson of the Neskonlith Indian Band said she had not heard any concerns in the BC caucus about the resolution.
“Change is inevitable…. This is a process and I appreciate the vision to move us. We have to move,” said Batchewana First Nation Chief Dean Sayers (Ontario), who is part of an existing chiefs’ committee that is looking at AFN charter renewal. “I think they can mutually be beneficial to each other.”
Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation (Saskatchewan) suggested the resolution be tabled as there were concerns with how it had been rolled out and communicated.
He said if the resolution were tabled, AFN “could think bigger on this and just do an entire governance review to make sure it’s 2021 worthy for years to come.”
However, the resolution was not tabled, but instead voted on and defeated.
When the results were officially announced on Dec. 9, Chief Scott McLeod of Nipissing First Nation (Ontario) raised the concern of allowing regional chiefs to serve as proxies and said that was a policy that needed to be revisited.
“As the chief for my community, I felt that we were overshadowed by regional chiefs making strong arguments, which was a bit self-serving, I think, and influencing the vote by way of those proxy positions. I don't think that’s fair to the chiefs in assembly. We’re quite able to make up our minds on issues such as that,” said McLeod.
The role of the regional chiefs as proxies was also questioned by Archibald the previous day who said it lends itself to inequity as some regional chiefs could speak while others could not.
However, both during the discussion and in her closing remarks, Archibald said the AFN SCA is a “safe space” for debate.
Archibald singled out Woodhouse and their “disagreement.” Archibald said she appreciated Woodhouse and assured chiefs that she and Woodhouse were “mending this relationship and finding a healing path forward together.”
How the resolution and Archibald’s vision for the organization will move forward is unclear.
Teegee had suggested that the resolution could be discussed at the regional chiefs’ meeting in March 2022 and then come back to the floor in July for chiefs to vote on.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.