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The ousting of the national chief is a turning point for the AFN

BY Sakib Hossain Aug 3, 2023

In a moment that sent shockwaves through Indigenous communities across Canada, RoseAnne Archibald was removed as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations June 29. The decision, reached through a non-confidence motion, raised questions about accountability, transparency and the path forward for the AFN. 

It all began with Archibald’s spirited celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day June 21. Little did she know that a week later, the First Nations-in-Assembly would pass a resolution calling for her removal as the national chief. The resolution was a culmination of a human resources investigation and Resolution 03/2022 passed in July 2022, which mandated a review of the AFN’s financial policies and practices.

Archibald’s removal stemmed from allegations she violated the Whistleblower Policy and breached the Executive Committee’s Code of Conduct. The resolution was passed with 163 out of a total of 231 votes. Chiefs Irene Kells and Kyra Wilson were instrumental in advancing the motion, although some chiefs viewed the potential impeachment of the first woman national chief as an extreme measure.

Archibald’s loud affirmations about fighting corruption garnered both support and opposition within the AFN. Judith Sayers, the president of the Nuu-Chan-nulth Tribal Council in BC, voiced her concerns, stating, “There was just a moment when we knew that things just weren’t going to change with her… Her need to go to the media, her need to be fighting in a public space, as opposed to working, trying to work together with the regional chiefs, with the chiefs across the country.”

Dr. Cathy Martin of the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation expressed her disappointment. “It’s a sad day for Indigenous people across Canada,” Martin said. “We’re the victims of a situation that couldn’t be resolved.” 

However, AFN Nova Scotia Regional Chief Paul Prosper stood by the resolution. “It was a tough decision,” Prosper observed. “But frankly, it was the only decision we had. This will sort of reinvigorate us to come together and to work together, and to create that positive change that we all need, that renewed sense of optimism.”

Archibald, who wasn’t present at the meeting, took to social media to express her thoughts, voicing her desire to be reinstated. She accused the AFN chiefs of carrying out “one of the most violent acts against an Indigenous, First Nation woman leader ever.” 

Archibald also called for a forensic audit and claimed that the human resources investigations were a distraction from the corruption she had been fighting since October 2020.

Interim National Chief Joanna Bernard, who assumed the role following Archibald’s removal, expressed her commitment to the AFN’s mission and the advancement of First Nations’ priorities. She emphasized the need to address concerns, uphold transparency and restore confidence in the organization. 

“Our financial statements have been independently audited every year over the past decade, and in every one of those years, auditors verified the statements as accurate,” Bernard noted.

The aftermath of Archibald’s removal raised questions about the credibility and future direction of the AFN. The forensic audit demanded by Archibald looked unlikely. But Russ Diabo, a former adviser to Archibald, expressed his concerns. “The AFN had poor credibility among grassroots people, and I think this is only going to worsen that.”

As the AFN moves forward, it faces challenges and opportunities for growth. The organization’s focus on healing, collaboration and addressing grassroots issues will shape its future as it aims to restore unity. Only time will tell how the AFN rebuilds its reputation, heals divisions and continues to advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples across Canada.

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