A major overhaul of the Assembly of First Nations is on the agenda at the organization’s annual meeting in Halifax this week, where hundreds of chiefs will gather against a backdrop of controversy over leadership and governance.
The AFN’s annual general assembly is a chance for First Nations to set the group’s course for the year, but much of the coming meeting, which begins on Tuesday and ends Thursday, could instead focus on the recent past.
The group’s national chief, RoseAnne Archibald, was voted out last month during a special assembly of AFN chiefs, under a cloud of accusations that she had bullied and harassed AFN staff. In a Facebook video posted last week, Ms. Archibald characterized her ouster as political payback and encouraged supporters to attend the annual meeting, in person or online, and share their displeasure with her removal – especially with the regional chiefs who preside over the organization’s powerful executive committee.
“I’m just one woman and I’m up against this big system, and I’ve been jumped by these 10 regional chiefs,” she said in the video.
The upheaval threatens to draw attention away from a major AFN initiative to overhaul its governing charter and reorient the powers of those regional chiefs.
That initiative was chaired by Khelsilem, who is also the chair of the Squamish Nation. On Tuesday, he is scheduled to unveil a report that calls on the AFN to transfer some of the executive committee’s powers to a new board of directors and create new accountability mechanisms within the organization.
The 73-page report, entitled Making Us Stronger, outlines 12 recommendations that it says would renew the AFN’s 38-year-old charter and ensure “that decisions are made efficiently and that a small group does not override the majority’s will.”
Authored by the AFN’s Charter Renewal Committee, the report says the group’s charter has fallen behind the times. Compared to the early 1980s, when the AFN formed, the federal government is now far more reliant on policy advice from the organization, which has become the main national advocacy group for First Nations in Canada. But the existing charter doesn’t provide for equal participation from all 634 member First Nations in formulating that advice.
Under the current charter, the executive committee oversees the AFN’s budget, and signs off on contracts worth more than $5,000 and the selection of some of the organization’s senior officials. The report recommends limiting the work of the executive to strategy and advocacy.
Many of the executive committee’s financial oversight and governance duties would be shifted to a reconstituted AFN secretariat, which would be made up of nine independent directors elected by AFN members. The secretariat would also gain investigative powers and authority over other branches of the AFN.
The board of directors model “ensures fair representation, prevents dominance by specific groups, and allows qualified professionals to contribute to the Secretariat’s governance and decision-making processes,” the report says.
The report also recommends adding a deputy national chief role. That person would take on some of the work of the national chief. The duo would have to run on a ticket every three years, and would be subject to new reporting and accountability measures. AFN members could unseat them with a non-confidence vote during an assembly meeting.
Overseeing all of this would be a new integrity commissioner, who “should be a person of moral character and integrity with appropriate academic credentials and professional experience,” the report says.
Another recommendation calls for two-stage ranked-choice voting in AFN elections, and the appointment of a chief electoral officer.
The agenda for the Halifax assembly contains resolutions that essentially ask AFN members to endorse the charter renewal work and support broader consultations on the recommendations.
The changes are being proposed at an opportune time, when the AFN’s leadership structure is already in flux. Ms. Archibald was voted out on June 28. The special chiefs assembly that ousted her also considered a human resources investigation into Ms. Archibald, which had stemmed from complaints against her from AFN staff. A motion to remove her passed with 71 per cent of the vote.
The vote happened after years of controversy over Ms. Archibald’s conduct. She has said her removal was engineered by regional chiefs who objected to her attempts to fight corruption within the AFN. She had long insisted the AFN submit to a thorough financial audit, and an independent investigation into possible government interference in its workings.
Ms. Archibald said in her video statement that she is still deciding whether to attend the annual meeting.