RoseAnne Archibald made her case to the Assembly of First Nations annual general assembly on Tuesday morning, after weeks of political uncertainty that followed the National Chief’s suspension last month.
Ms. Archibald faces competing efforts at the assembly to remove her from her role or to support her continued leadership.
During her remarks, Ms. Archibald argued that her suspension is unlawful. She doubled down on her allegations of corruption within the AFN, calling it the “most widely known secret in Indian country.” She also laid out a sweeping vision for a “new AFN,” in which AFN staff would be transferred to a new corporation that she said would be grounded in First Nations culture and values.
“I ask you to stand with me in this positive vision of the future,” Ms. Archibald said to the room of hundreds of First Nations chiefs and observers gathered at the Vancouver Convention Centre, as well as virtually.
There are stark differences of opinion over the National Chief’s suspension. While Ms. Archibald has accused the AFN’s executive committee of overreach in its decisions, executive committee members defended their actions and raised concerns about possible legal liabilities raised by the affair.
It was recently revealed that four AFN staff members have accused Ms. Archibald of bullying and harassment, which prompted an external investigation. She was previously the subject of several informal complaints of harassment and bullying from employees while in her role as Ontario regional chief.
Leading up to the assembly, it was unclear whether the National Chief would be allowed to attend, as Ms. Archibald was initially banned by the executive committee. The AFN eventually settled on a format that allowed for 30 minutes of speaking time for the National Chief, as well as for the executive committee, which was represented by Nova Scotia/Newfoundland Regional Chief Paul Prosper and New Brunswick Regional Chief Joanna Bernard.
Mr. Prosper said that the decision to suspend the National Chief was not easy, and was based on “many long days, and many long nights.”
He called on the assembly to take a “middle path” – in the form of a resolution recommended by the executive committee, and moved by Rosanne Casimir, the Kúkpi7 (Chief) of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc. The resolution called to temporarily suspend the National Chief with pay until the investigation into the complaints was concluded.
That resolution, however, failed in a vote on Tuesday afternoon – a decision that received applause from the room.
Two other emergency draft resolutions over Ms. Archibald’s leadership are also being brought: one calls to end the “unsubstantiated” suspension and fulfill her demand for a forensic audit of the AFN, while the other asks for the National Chief to be immediately removed from office and an interim leader be appointed.
The two resolutions are set to be voted on Wednesday.
Mr. Prosper also said that he and his colleagues are not opposed to a forensic audit, and will “welcome” it, if the chiefs desire one.
In her remarks, Ms. Bernard said the executive committee is trying to see through a fair workplace investigation, which the National Chief’s actions have made “nearly impossible.” She also said that on July 1, Ms. Archibald made suggestions that a “long list of contractors” of the AFN over the years were involved in some kind of corruption.
“None of these matters were ever brought to the executive committee nor the workplace investigator, instead the National Chief continues to send them in e-mails and speeches and on Twitter,” she said. “And now some of these contractors on that list are writing and telling the AFN that they may have claims for releasing [that] list.”
Ms. Archibald did not hold back in her categorization of the AFN and its executive committee, calling the current AFN structure “a threat” to First Nations’ sovereignty, jurisdiction and survival of First Nations communities.
“How many of your regional chiefs shared full disclosure with you? All the facts. I don’t think very many,” she said.
Ms. Archibald said that her suspension came as a result of her speaking the truth about corruption at the AFN, and that she has sent out information about “questionable contracts.”
The day began as a group of several dozen people gathered outside the conference centre to support the National Chief, before she led a procession into the main assembly hall.
Among the speakers who came to the microphone in the morning, Doug Kelly spoke of the need to avoid adding to the “burden of healing” for those at the current assembly, which continues until Thursday.
“Our organization is in trouble. We have to fix it, but we have to fix it with love, kindness and respect,” he said.
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