RoseAnne Archibald took to Facebook late on Monday to make her first public statement after an overwhelming vote last week by a special chiefs assembly to remove her as AFN National Chief.
She vowed to fight and asked for people, particularly women and other marginalized groups, to take action so she could reclaim her position at the head of the Assembly of First Nations.
“You can call or text or e-mail your chief and council and you can ask for two things. One, that they reinstate me as National Chief and two, that they make sure that the forensic audit goes ahead,” she said in a video statement recorded in a car in a B.C. parking lot.
It’s the first time the advocacy group has removed one of its national chiefs. In this case, it happened to be the first elected woman in that position in the AFN’s 40-plus-year history.
After she was ousted last week, she described “the great injustice against her, all women and grassroots peoples.”
In her five-minute video on Facebook Monday night, she said: “They just went ahead and did one of the most violent acts against an Indigenous First Nation woman leader ever, in a national kind of way, in a world stage kind of way. And that is not acceptable. We need to find the healing path forward.”
Her supporters say the move was made because she called for financial accountability of what’s long been described as an “old boys’ club” that is resistant to change, especially at the reins of a woman.
Others say Ms. Archibald has her own history of workplace harassment and bullying, going back to her days as the AFN’s Ontario regional chief where she also faced complaints from staff.
Last week, a special assembly of chiefs passed a resolution to remove Ms. Archibald after the results of a human-resources investigation into complaints against her.
“This decision was made due to her violation of the Whistleblower Policy and breach of the Executive Committee’s Code of Conduct. As a result, the position of National Chief will remain vacant until an interim National Chief is selected from the Executive Committee,” the statement from last week stated.
Ms. Archibald called the human-resources report a distraction from what was really happening, which she said is “problems at the AFN that must be cleaned up and fixed.” She said she is experiencing pushback because of the corruption within the AFN that she’s fought against since October, 2020, when she first heard about “financial improprieties.”
According to one prominent B.C. leader, the future of the AFN is in the balance as the organization scrambles for direction and leadership in the wake of her ouster.
“At this point, I’m throwing in the towel and saying we don’t want to be part of the AFN,” said Joe Alphonse, Tl’etinqox First Nation Chief and Tribal Chairman of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government, located in the province’s Central Interior.
“Until a lot of healing takes place there, the Tŝilhqot’in don’t want to be part of anything like that,” he said. “That misery ship they’re running, we don’t want it to dock here.”
During the charged meeting of AFN chiefs last Wednesday, a motion to remove Ms. Archibald passed with 71 per cent of the vote. The resolution was moved and seconded by two women, Chief Irene Kells of Zhiibaahaasing First Nation in Ontario and Chief Kyra Wilson of Long Plains First Nation in Manitoba.
Mr. Alphonse was one of the dissenters, voting to keep the embattled national chief despite a year of controversy over her conduct.
At the time of the vote, he said chiefs still hadn’t been given a full picture of the investigation into workplace misconduct complaints against Ms. Archibald.
“That’s not good governance,” he said. “They’ve really weakened the AFN as an organization.”
The removal of Ms. Archibald has left the AFN at a crossroads, and not for the first time. New leaders often come to power on pledges of major changes to the organization’s mandate.
“It seems to be the case that at the end of every national chief’s term, the AFN encounters an identity crisis,” said Hayden King, executive director of the Yellowhead Institute, an Indigenous-led research and education centre at Toronto Metropolitan University.
Ms. Archibald was elected in 2021, but internal conflicts overshadowed the aims and accomplishments of her time in office and derailed the organization’s direction.
“There is a lot of work to be done, a lot of uncertainty and another blow to the credibility of an organization that is struggling to demonstrate what it’s actually working for,” said Dr. King.
There has long been differing opinions over the purpose of the AFN. Some see it as an organization negotiating on behalf of First Nations; others as a group that acts as a broker between nations.
“It’s a constant push and pull,” said Dr. King. “It’s the toughest job in politics.”
That difficulty stems from arguments over the AFN’s mandate, as well as the array of factions a national chief is expected to represent: more than 900,000 people living in more than 600 First Nations.
Ms. Archibald ran on a “heart-centred” approach to leadership that would emphasize kindness and respect. While that didn’t come to pass, said Dr. King, her victory based on that platform shows that there’s an appetite for a leader who can sow harmony.
She said in her Monday video that in addition to being reinstated and for a forensic audit to be completed, she wants to see a healing path forward.
“This becomes an opportunity for us to turn a corner away from the colonial path of attack and political garbage that’s been happening in our communities and in our organizations for the last three or four decades, the time has come to change.”