Thursday, July 24, 2014

The AFN...In a state of flux.

The emotional never can be reconciled with the logical. That in itself is a crucial juxtaposition that needs to be respected when discussing the modern relationship between Canadians and indigenous societies in the present context. Indigenous men and women are fervently engaged in the process of bringing to light the inherent rights of their respective nations, and what the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) new premise should be.
   Since the resignation of its first sitting Grand Chief Shawn Atleo five months ago; the AFN have been in a state of flux. The triggering of Atleo’s resignation re-introduced the Confederacy of Nations, put into question its legitimacy to speak on behalf of all indigenous societies in Canada, and more precisely-its lack of representative mandate to the grassroots.
   During the 35th AFN Annual General Assembly held in Nova Scotia in July 2014, the AFN ‘chiefs-in-assembly’ re-examined the executive relationship with its grassroots membership, and what course of action should be taken on several fronts by its council.

Leah Gazan

   Leah Gazan, who teaches in the Faculty of Education at the University of Winnipeg, believes that expecting unanimous consensus regarding the issues facing First Nations-not realistic.
 “Leadership shouldn't be concerned about not always agreeing. It’s okay to disagree. I think that we have to learn that it is okay to disagree…that it is okay that we are not on the same page all the time. That is where creative process occurs and I think it is how we reach as close to consensus as we can. I think we see that at the AFN right now.”

   Gazan is a Lakota from the Wood Mountain Lakota Nation in Saskatchewan. She advocates strongly for a more comprehensive approach with regard to indigenous self-governance, and a re-structuring of existing leadership processes stemming from the Indian Act. Gazan is a pragmatist. She is of the opinion, that if the AFN is to continue-re-structure is needed.
   Not everyone within the AFN’s ‘chiefs-in-assembly’ seemed of like-minded opinion five months ago. Some deemed Atleo’s sudden departure as a welcome step, and considered dissolving the AFN entirely.

Robert Falcon-Ouellette
 Robert Falcon-Ouellette is a mayoral candidate for the City of Winnipeg. Being a Métis (Cree) from the Red Pheasant reserve in Saskatchewan; Falcon-Ouellette has resided in Winnipeg for the past four years with his wife and five children. In terms of the AFN; he believes that the disproportionate lack of representation at the national level is acerbating an already tenuous relationship, “I believe that one of their issues is that they don’t have universal suffrage. Falcon-Ouellette went on to say,
  “If you talk to the actual activists and militants of Idle No More (INM); they’re not satisfied with the status quo that the Chiefs represent. And so these Chiefs are trying to respond to what they see on the ground and they’re not happy and they convey that to the National Chief.  When you look at the agreement between the AFN and the federal government… (INM) felt that the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (FNEA) gave too much power to the federal government and it wasn't enough about indigenous sovereignty.”
   In addition, Gazan reiterated the existing fiduciary relationship between the AFN and the federal government, “The current structure no longer holds relevancy with the changing political landscape in this country. We need a model that supports our nation to nation treaty relationships and we need to move away from the Indian Act.”
   Be that as it may, the AFN executive will need to address the issue of representation. Gazan explained that it might be very well be more of the same, “but it doesn't have to be.”
  Falcon-Ouellette graduated with a PhD. in Anthropological Education, including two Master Degrees (Education and Music) from the University of Laval. He appreciated Atleo’s efforts to pursue and advocate for greater funding from the federal government.
“When you look at Shawn Atleo I believe that he was successful. He managed to get 1.5 billion out of the federal government for education. That is an incredible accomplishment. Not even provincial premiers have been able to do that. When you look at it objectively the inter-play (within the AFN) the Chiefs…is do you negotiate education first? Or do you push for resource development?
Many are looking towards new leadership at the AFN level to answer these fundamental issues. None are questioning the validity of the AFN to advocate on behalf of indigenous peoples in Canada for greater autonomy or the implementation of its Supreme Court rulings via federal legislation, “We (the AFN) still need to interact with the federal government and Canadians,” added Falcon-Ouellette.
  For some, the very political structure being dictated by the federal government is causing a greater rift within First Nations communities. It is what Second Chief Joe Katt, from Temagami First Nation explained to Nigel Irwin (writer for
“In traditional government, the Chief and Council was not elected to make decisions for the people but on behalf of the people. That’s a heck of a big difference. The people have to be in agreement. I hear it in my council all the time: ‘We have to mandate!’ That’s one of the biggest faults with the democratic system. Anybody who is going to run can make all the promises in the world, and yet once they get their power, do whatever the heck they wish. You’ll find some Chiefs who pay themselves an outrageous salary meanwhile their people are suffering from lack of housing, poor education, so on and so forth. The people hold the power and not a group called Chief and Council.”
Gazan surmises that at the national level; Atleo failed to take this into consideration, “Unfortunately he fell into that, and his decisions failed to allow those nation to nation relationships to be honored.”
   She also added some introspection as to the methodology of the AFN, “I support the Treaty Alliance approach because I am getting less and less patient about the Pan-Aboriginal approach to my rights; as an indigenous person in this country without having voice. I have a right to have a say in decisions that will directly affect my life, my child’s life, and the life of my grandchildren in the future.”

Sadie Phoenix-Lavoie
  Sadie-Phoenix-Lavoie is a student (Faculty of Education) at the University of Winnipeg and is currently working as a grade 3-4 instructor for the summer months. She is an Objibway from the Sagkeeng First Nation, and a fierce advocate for indigenous rights. First to call attention to the issues arising within her reservation; Phoenix-Lavoie takes to task her own Chief and Council to bear the consequences of irresponsible leadership. Highly visible within her community, Phoenix-Lavoie advocates for those who cannot, or are too afraid to do so. Her Facebook posts proudly exemplifies what she believes in.
  “…Me speaking about how Sagkeeng defeated the Sagkeeng Hydro Accord & our corrupt C&C. Now is the time to figure out what is next for our community to work on for our future generations...such as renewable energy projects!”
   She is of the opinion that educational indigenous structures need to be individually tailored to the needs of First Nation communities. She identifies with the value of education; including challenging the status quo for something more tangible…uniquely indigenous based.
“I do not believe that it (the AFN) is democratic enough. It is an organization that continues to remain under the Indian Act, and is subject to federal funding, explained Phoenix-Lavoie.
 “The (AFN) governing system is foreign to us as it is to was never meant to speak for the people. It operates and behaves more like a bureaucracy; and that needs to change.”
   More indigenous youth led advocacy groups like Phoenix-Lavoie, are organizing in a way that is difficult for both First Nations leadership and Canadian politicians to ignore. They are setting the stage, demanding the kind of political change that will offer better economic and societal benefits for indigenous people.

  What will Canadians contribute towards a greater re-affirmation of indigenous inherent treaty rights? 

   When discussing the AFN, one cannot ignore the Canadian contingent. Falcon-Ouellette is part of that process. Choosing to run for the mayor-ship of Winnipeg as a Métis; it is his hope to alter the mindset of Canadians through leadership and by example.  What is occurring at the AFN level is a reflection of us all who live in this country.
   Gazan acknowledges the need to engage Canadians on a more intrinsic level; albeit she is not quite convinced that it need occur within the AFN, “I don’t know whether the goal is so much to appeal to Canadians or to find common issues that we can all agree on…I think that’s where we’ll see the most momentum.”
   There is also anger; Canadians can ill afford to ignore this fact. What has been done on behest of Canadian society since first contact needs to be affirmed. Apologies, and introspection is a beginning; but not a solution to the present realities that more needs to be done. The continuing Canadian relationship via its future federal government (s) will either choose to assimilate more indigenous traditionalist values within its political, economic, societal structures or maintain the status quo.

   Irwin writes,
 “Treaties were made long ago, back in the times when the colonialists first made contact, and that (Treaty 1-11) acted as agreements to keep the peace and share the resources. It was never understood that we, as Aboriginals, were expected to give up such a large amount of what the Creator gave us. In essence, we feel cheated and deeply disrespected. That respect is what Aboriginals are really fighting to regain.”
Whether through education, activism, or political engagement; the process of reinventing the AFN may rekindle the desire among non-indigenous and indigenous Canadians to become-united.
“I think that the disorganization in appearance at the AFN is a time of beautiful shift and change and something that has been needed as we break through our own colonial prison. And our own leadership is recognizing that, and they are changing even their own understanding of Indian Act leadership.”-Leah Gazan.

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