RoseAnne Archibald, who was deposed last month from her position as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was barred from the organization’s annual gathering on Tuesday after she delivered three separate speeches to the delegation denouncing the AFN’s leadership for her sudden dismissal.
Ms. Archibald was not physically present at the meeting, the AFN’s annual general assembly, which began in Halifax on Tuesday and will end Thursday. She delivered her remarks by videoconference.
Following her third and final speech, in which she said the decision to remove her was based on lies and gossip, meeting co-chair Wina Sioui invoked rules against disruptive behaviour to bar Ms. Archibald from speaking further. “We really, really, really want to get business done and make sure decorum here is respected,” Ms. Sioui said to a round of applause from many of the 186 delegates present.
It was an unceremonious end to Ms. Archibald’s presence within an organization she had helmed until AFN chiefs, who represent First Nations across Canada, voted to expel her. While that dismissal essentially stripped her of any official role at the annual meeting, she was appearing as a proxy for Hornepayne First Nation.
Earlier in the day, three of her supporters had attempted to have Ms. Archibald reinstated, but their motions were rejected on procedural grounds. This prompted Ms. Archibald to air her misgivings by video.
“Chiefs, wake up,” she said. “Take back your authority. What is happening in this moment is absolutely wrong. Everybody sees it. Everybody sees it except you. Wake up, stand up and vote against the garbage that’s happening at AFN.”
AFN chiefs voted to expel Ms. Archibald at a special meeting on Jun. 28 amid allegations that she had harassed AFN staff. Ms. Archibald has characterized her ouster as political payback for trying to root out corruption and financial improprieties within the organization. She had encouraged supporters to attend the annual meeting, in person or online, to share their displeasure with her removal – and especially with the 10 regional chiefs who preside over the organization’s powerful executive committee.
One of those committee members, New Brunswick Regional Chief Joanna Bernard, was sworn in as interim National Chief on Tuesday morning. She told delegates that the decision to remove Ms. Archibald had been difficult, and urged them to focus on core AFN business. “This week, we will discuss and make decisions on key priorities,” she said. She mentioned climate action, safe drinking water on reserves, policing and governance, among others. “These discussions will shape the future direction of our collective efforts and ensure that our voices are heard on the matters that impact our communities directly.”
Even with Ms. Archibald’s absence, other concerns about the executive committee’s leadership emerged. A copy of the meeting agenda distributed online included two resolutions to endorse the work of the AFN’s Charter Renewal Committee, which has worked since 2019 on a report that recommends shifting some powers from the executive to a new board of directors. The executive committee decided to delete the resolutions shortly before the meeting, according to Charter Renewal Committee head Khelsilem, chairperson of Squamish Nation.
Khelsilem, who uses only one name, successfully lobbied to have one of the charter renewal motions readded to the agenda. Several delegates criticized the control wielded by the executive committee.
Khelsilem said the continuing disagreement over Ms. Archibald’s ouster has been draining for many people in the AFN’s leadership. “There comes a point where I think the fatigue of these issues becomes quite immense and there’s just a desire to focus on priority issues,” he said.
The AFN’s charter hasn’t been updated since 1985. Khelsilem said it is time for a change, particularly when it comes to processes related to the role of national chief.
“I think what we’ve experienced is largely an outcome of the system we’ve created and, unfortunately, that’s the challenge that the former national chief had,” he said. “I think it’s a challenge that the assembly had.”
Ms. Archibald was the AFN’s first female national chief. Khelsilem described her as “an inspirational leader,” who accomplished many of the goals she campaigned on.
He noted that she had forged relationships with many First Nations communities and leaders across the country. “I think she was a proud supporter of improving the governance of the organization … of advancing the inclusion of more voices within AFN,” he said.