Cuthand: AFN national chief needs space to reform organization

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The clash between the old guard and a strong, opinionated woman was inevitable.

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It was a clear victory for Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnn Archibald when she won the motion to reinstate her as National Chief by three-quarters of the vote.

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Two weeks ago, the executive committee suspended her pending the results of a human resources issue and removed her from her job, seizing her mobile phone and closing her email account. He was also told to refrain from speaking to the media and from attending the National Assembly. It was an abuse of power at worst.

In the end, she showed up at the Vancouver Assembly, led the grand entrance, and took her place at the head table. When the motion to reinstate the national chief was tabled, the executive committee took it on the chin as chief after chief stood up and condemned their actions. It became very clear that the committee had overstepped its bounds. The national chief is elected by the chiefs, and only the chiefs had the power to impeach her.

Ultimately, the National Chief won all three contentious resolutions that were prepared against her. She won the motion to have it suspended. A resolution of censure never reached the ground; the mover and seconder instead withdrew it. The third motion called for verification, an end to the toxic environment at the national office, and for the executive and the national chief to get along and reconcile. I’m not sure about this clause – the relationship was poisoned by the executive suspending the chief.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald speaks during a press conference in Kamloops, British Columbia, September 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald speaks during a press conference in Kamloops, British Columbia, September 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

The APN badly needs to be reformed. The executive committee is undemocratic and has unbalanced representation. Sixty percent of status aboriginal people live in the four western provinces, but we only have three votes on the executive committee. Alberta is not represented. However, there are three representatives from the Maritimes, including one from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. The entire Maritime region has a lower population than the Prince Albert Grand Council of Saskatchewan.

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The AFN is an organization designed by leaders who wanted to control the agenda and not give up power. According to National Chief Archibald, they also viewed the organization as a fund.

The clash between the old guard and a strong, opinionated woman was inevitable. Archibald was determined to clean up the organization and rein in excessive staff demands and severance packages.

As a political organization, each new leader brings in their own senior staff, creating a loyal, like-minded workforce. This means that some senior executives are receiving layoff notices. That’s how it’s always been. This is not unique to the AFN; all political parties and governments work the same way.

Consistency is a big issue at the national office. Only one person is elected nationally, and all the work, blame and accolades are placed on one person. The old National Indian Brotherhood had a chief and a vice-chief to share the workload. Part of the mandate given to the National Chief is to review the structure of the organization, and a review of the Office of the Chief and an expanded executive should be considered.

Currently, a 60% majority is required for a leader’s motion to pass. The same is true for the plurality required to elect the national leader. It becomes an obstacle to change. A simple majority should be the rule. In the case of the two special motions presented, the chiefs were so determined to put the organization back on track that they obtained a majority of more than 75%.

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The APN is at a turning point in its history. Next month, the pope is due to visit Canada and hopefully apologize for the excesses and crimes of the residential schools. This work was supported by the APN.

The federal government and the AFN also just negotiated a $20 billion settlement for victims of the Sixties Scoop. Indigenous issues are a priority for the federal government and the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples is in full swing.

This is a time when the organization must rise to the occasion. This is not the time for internal dissension. The national leader must be given the opportunity to move forward to reform the organization.

Doug Cuthand is the Aboriginal affairs columnist for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Regina Leader-Post. He is a member of Little Pine First Nation.

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