I have read that AFN Chief Phil Fontaine has embarked upon an effort to solicit the collective vote of band memberships for the AFN chief position.
I have read that Mr. Fontaine wants to have women/youth and hereditary chiefs to have more say at the AFN. I also read that Mr. Fontaine wants to have the AFN chief position to be held at large and voted on by the band membership.
To me, it sounds like the extent of authority vested at the AFN has changed from its original purpose, which, to my understanding, was originally created to oppose the 1969 White Paper.
Is the AFN office still the same one that was created by the chiefs to serve initially as a spokesperson for status Indians and to act as an advocate on their behalf, or is it an extension of Indian Affairs—perhaps a hybrid of policy and process dollars?
The question that reverberates in my mind is the transparency and accountability the AFN purports to satisfy from a mandate that was created in a vacuum by First Nation representatives, namely, chiefs without community sanction or endorsement.
Is the AFN office truly accountable to the First Nation citizens and leadership? I venture to say not.
I was chief of Rainy River First Nation in 1994 when the AFN elected its chief in Saskatoon. As chief, I remember foregoing my attendance at this meeting because I disagreed with the policy of chiefs or First Nation representatives attending such meetings and being able to cast a vote to elect a national chief.
Instead, I sent a member of council to this meeting with the expectation his understanding of politic and treaty rights would benefit by observing such proceedings.
From what I was told about our Anishanabe/Ojibway heritage, as a people we never in our history accepted another tribal official (e.g., Cree/Mohawk/Inuit) to speak for the interests of our people.
I was told interdependent enclaves comprised our peaceful existence and that in times of conflict, inherent authorities from these autonomies dictated the level of support each would participate for the independent and collective good of the Anishanabe/Ojibway people.
Today, the AFN is seeking broad representative authority and power to negotiate and represent aboriginal and treaty rights. It is talking about defining powers and functions as an elected office of the people.
I see this effort, if successful, placing our relationship with the Crown in grave danger and deceitfully eroding the legitimate political trust and fiduciary relationship between the Crown and our treaty.
It’s time we carefully review and safeguard our treaty (Treaty #3) from an impending threat of an organization such as the AFN which potentially can become an institution that is not obliged to answer to the First Nations authority, whose interest it was created to serve.
Have we not learned enough from the devastating effect colonial institutions have had upon our people’s values, beliefs, and behaviours. Have we been assimilated to the point that we will permit our chiefs/representatives to abandon the sacred covenant our ancestors agreed to in Treaty #3, which is to co-exist and live in peace and harmony with the white man.
I don’t recall it saying we would assimilate, and abandon our customs and traditions and distinct way of life.
I wonder how our seven spiritual teachings, “wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth,” would stand against the corporate values of power/profiteering and exploitation?
I wonder how long it’s been since our communities governed themselves according to our own customs, traditions, and teachings undeterred by European contact and influence?
As the Ojibway people comprising Treaty #3, we must never allow a meeting forum such as the AFN to secure and/or be granted authority over our treaty relationship with the Crown in Right of Canada by virtue of a majority vote of Canadian reserve chiefs or a collective vote of band memberships per se.
What right does any one person or people have to change the sacred relationship contained in our treaty with Canada. What right does an office like the AFN have to even fathom creating, developing, and imposing a colonial/organizational system of governance upon our people.
It is apparent the AFN has been creating one-window, one-stop shopping for the Government of Canada and for its policy and program processes. We are in imminent danger when an external forum and office such as the AFN can potentially make deals with the government on programs and services to the detriment of our treaty rights.
That is what continuously happens at AFN meetings. Chiefs are encouraged to exercise their vote (abstention/silence means agreement) and with each majority vote committing First Nations to policy and program opportunities and influences.
As Ojibway members of Treaty #3, it is our duty to stand passionately against such actions if they are taken beyond the conceptual discussions of this day.
Perhaps, the AFN instead should direct its energy at verifying its compliance to the roles and responsibilities it was granted as an advocate office and verifying that its policies of communication, representation, and accountability are legitimate and functional to Canada’s First Nations.
It’s funny, we now have an AFN office promoting the development of an electoral system for itself when Indian reserves across the country are continuously embroiled in election disputes and controversy.
Rainy River First Nation