Assembly of First Nations meets as suspended chief fights for financial audit

The annual gathering of the Assembly of First Nations is being held this week in Vancouver under a cloud of criticism from its national chief, who has been suspended and denied entry to the meeting.

RoseAnne Archibald has said her suspension is a violation of the assembly’s charter and that the regional chiefs don’t have the power to suspend the national chief.

She says the suspension is a means to intimidate, punish and silence her over her claims of the possible misuse of public funds by the assembly.

An Ontario court rejected a bid last week by Archibald to overturn her suspension, which was put in place June 17 during an investigation into four complaints against her by her staff.

Archibald has alleged she was attacked for trying to investigate corruption within the assembly and called for a forensic audit of the organization for the last eight years.

Up until Monday, Archibald was still scheduled to speak at the opening of the meeting, but she said in a tweet that she was “erased” from the agenda for her effort to make the assembly accountable in a forensic audit.

“This is a chiefs-in-assembly meeting, not an AFN (executive) meeting,” she said.

One draft resolution before the assembly asks that Archibald be removed from the office and a new election be held because she didn’t receive the required 60 per cent of votes cast when she was elected last year.

Chief Wendy Jocko of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation says on social media she is bringing an emergency resolution to the floor at the AFN meeting, calling for an immediate end to the “unsubstantiated and unlawful suspension” of Archibald.

The assembly meeting’s theme is “walking the healing path,” and starts the day after the AFN announced a $20-billion settlement to compensate First Nations children and their families over the harms caused by chronic underfunding of child welfare on reserves.

AFN regional chief Cindy Woodhouse, the lead negotiator on the child welfare agreement for the assembly, said the leadership issue isn’t affecting her work.

“First Nations go through turbulent times at times, but I know that we’ve been through so many things historically and I think that this work is so important that it will keep moving forward.”

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said many organizations go through such troubles and this is an opportunity for it to determine the right approach to its governance.

“Of course, a strong AFN is a good thing, I think, for the country and for the many Indigenous groups and communities that it represents.”

She said the federal government’s job isn’t to determine how Indigenous people should organize themselves, but to work with those nations.

— With files from Sarah Ritchie.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.

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