AFN assembly kicks off with updates on investigations, little progress on backlogged issues
The Assembly of First Nations’ first gathering since National Chief RoseAnne Archibald survived a bitterly contested non-confidence motion in July kicked off Tuesday with a pledge to address the organization’s ongoing internal troubles and an acknowledgment tensions have resulted in a backlog of pressing issues.
“We can’t spend another minute, let alone a chiefs’ assembly, in turmoil,” said Archibald as she welcomed First Nations delegates to downtown Ottawa’s Westin hotel in her opening speech.
“Yes, there are still HR and legal matters that we will resolve in the coming months. We will continue to do so in a good way.”
Archibald’s speech followed a critical welcoming address by Dylan Whiteduck, chief of Kitigan Zibi north of Ottawa in Quebec, who said the assembly compromised its integrity during the July meeting in Vancouver.
Archibald told delegates she believed the challenges can be traced to intergenerational trauma stemming from the horrors Canada’s residential school system inflicted on First Nations people.
She announced the AFN’s executive committee, which consists of the national chief and regional chiefs, would bring on retired senator and former Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Murray Sinclair as a mediator to help with conflict resolution.
“In the meantime, I’ve heard loud and clear from chiefs across Turtle Island, from leadership across Turtle Island, that our important work must continue and not be slowed down by inner conflicts,” she said.
Sinclair did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
HR probe at standstill
Before the July assembly, the regional chiefs had attempted to suspend Archibald after four employees, followed by a fifth, filed workplace misconduct complaints against her, which resulted in an ongoing probe.
Archibald hit back, claiming she’d been undermined, discredited and attacked because of her press for an investigation into what she alleges is corruption within the organization, which receives tens of millions of dollars annually through contribution agreements with the federal government.
Archibald defeated the attempted suspension and convinced the chiefs to order a review of the organization’s financial policies and practices before, if necessary, commissioning a forensic audit.
The delegates heard updates from both the workplace misconduct probe and financial review as the assembly’s first order of business following opening protocols.
Raquel Chisholm, a partner with law firm Emond Harnden, said the national chief had not made herself available for an interview despite investigators’ repeated requests to sit down with her between August and now.
“Ultimately, the investigators were only able to meet with the national chief last week on Nov. 29,” Chisholm said.
“They were not, however, able to actually interview her. Instead, she expressed, through her lawyer, concerns about the fairness of the process. I had hoped that we would have a report by now, and we do not.”
CBC News requested more information from the national chief on her concerns but did not receive a reply.
Audit in early stage
Meanwhile, the chiefs committee charged with conducting preliminary work on the financial probe said they were making progress on three investigations happening alongside the HR probe: an investigative review to end sexual-orientation and gender-based discrimination, the financial policies and practices review, and a governance review.
“The most important piece of the update is that our committee is taking those resolutions seriously, that we are having fulsome discussions to meaningfully work with the executive committee and the secretariat to implement those resolutions,” said Khelsilem, chairperson of the Squamish Nation Council.
Khelsilem told delegates the chiefs committee on charter renewal, which examines governance issues, is working to bring in an external financial expert with knowledge of audits to help advise them in their work, which is still in early stages.
He said the committee had already provided a number of resolutions on internal governance and administrative reform for the delegates to consider Tuesday afternoon.
Newfoundland to have own seat on council
Chiefs or their chosen proxies from all 634 First Nations in Canada are eligible to debate and vote on resolutions during these assemblies, which provide the executive chiefs their lobbying mandate.
The chiefs passed a resolution to change the name of the not-for-profit corporation, known as the National Indian Brotherhood, which the AFN maintains to sign funding deals with Ottawa and conduct other business.
The National Indian Brotherhood was the AFN’s forerunner, operating until 1982 when the AFN was established in its place.
Chiefs also passed a resolution supporting a new policy governing conflicts of interest and perceived conflicts of interest. They also agreed to give Newfoundland a seat on the AFN’s executive council.
The assembly’s first day concluded with a presentation from Kimberly Murray, the federally appointed special interlocutor on unmarked graves and burial sites at former residential schools.
More than 60 resolutions dealing with issues like child welfare, residential schools, policing and more are slated to be debated Wednesday and Thursday.