A proposal to spend up to $2-million on a permanent Ottawa residence, including furniture, for the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations was put before regional chiefs at a meeting this week.
The pitch, which was rejected, included another proposal for up to $3.5-million to buy “any number of properties, including furniture,” for use by the national chief or regional chiefs, both current and future.
Some members of the executive of the AFN say now is not the time to be buying property for the organization. Both Northwest Territories Regional Chief Norman Yakeleya and Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse said Thursday that if the AFN has access to this amount of money, it should be directed to those who are less fortunate.
Many First Nations people experience everyday struggles in accessing food, clothing and shelter, Mr. Yakeleya said in an interview, adding the proposal was not put forward at an appropriate time.
“Look at the everyday people that are out there in this cold weather in December, and it is Christmastime,” he said.
“And we want to spend millions of dollars and we can justify through our policies and procedures and the reasons why? Shouldn’t we focus on serving our people who are homeless, who need clothing, who need food, who are struggling every day to survive, who are sleeping on our streets and our buildings, who are scraping for food in garbage bins, begging for food?”
Mr. Yakeleya also said there are so many issues the AFN needs to focus on, including First Nations who still have long-term drinking-water advisories and the continuing effects of residential schools. Mr. Yakeleya is himself a residential-school survivor.
Ms. Woodhouse agreed the AFN’s funds should instead be spent on people who are homeless rather than on purchasing property.
The proposal was made on Monday when the AFN executive committee met. The committee includes regional chiefs from across Canada along with AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald.
The AFN, an advocacy organization representing more than 900,000 First Nations people in 634 communities across the country, plays a key role in trying to shape federal government policy. Ms. Archibald was elected to her role as National Chief in July.
A copy of a briefing note presented to the executive, obtained by The Globe and Mail, outlines the proposal of a capital asset purchase and indicates that no residential or commercial properties are currently under the ownership of the AFN.
It also cited the “historic and rapid pace of growth in rent and purchase prices in the greater Ottawa region” as rationale for buying a permanent residence.
The organization provides a monthly living allowance for the national chief of $3,600 but the briefing note says the average rent and purchase price of homes have increased in Ottawa since the previous national chief began receiving this amount.
The document said the purchase of property could be made with cash from the AFN’s building fund or financed through a bank. The note says, however, that the financing option is not preferred because it would be more expensive.
In a statement on Thursday evening, Jamie Monastyrski, a press secretary for the Office of the National Chief, said Ms. Archibald did not put forward the proposal herself. He said the organization’s secretariat made these recommendations as a way to create investment opportunities as well as reduce the costs of housing and hotels for the current and future national chiefs, regional chiefs and others required to travel to Ottawa on business.
Mr. Monastyrski also said the National Chief is pleased the regional chiefs voted against the motion “given that the pandemic has had serious negative impacts on First Nations, particularly when it comes to lack of safe and secure Indigenous housing.” He said she will be advocating for increased funding for First Nations housing from the federal government.
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