Assembly of First Nations moose in the room | Joan Jack

By Joan Jack

Law360 Canada (June 30, 2023, 10:42 AM EDT) --
Joan Jack
Joan Jack
The June 28 headlines read the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Special Chiefs in Assembly (SCA) “overwhelmingly” vote to remove National Chief (NC) RoseAnne Archibald from office. Our first ever female national chief.

The media focuses on a vote that resulted in the “overwhelming” 71 per cent support for her removal, mentioning in passing that the 163 of 231 chiefs who voted only represent approximately one-third of the 624 chiefs eligible to vote. Personally, I see the vote as overwhelming evidence that our chiefs and councils are too busy doing what they can for us at home to even attend an AFN Zoom meeting. Chiefs, by being absent, including the six who abstained, overwhelmingly voted that the AFN was not important to them!

This scenario plays out over and over in our lives. As Indigenous peoples, we are locked into colonial thinking and the resulting institutions. The oppressed have become the oppressor.

In a “right/wrong” paradigm, there are only two positions. Either I am right, and you are wrong, or I am wrong, and you are right. To resolve this conflict as Indigenous peoples, on our behalf and for our good, the AFN executive has chosen to engage basically in what could be described as corporate legal violence requiring more bureaucrats and lawyers. The tail is wagging the dog.

Within Indigenous paradigms of conflict resolution, the goal is to create, maintain and restore peace within “All my relations” and this requires ceremony and an openness to diversity of opinion, a willingness to peacefully resolve conflict and time.

RoseAnne Archibald ran for the office of AFN national chief on a platform to expose any abuse of power that may exist within the AFN, which was in accordance with the view of many chiefs and grassroots citizens who have long called for a forensic audit at the AFN; because we all know without the general ledger, the financial statements can paint a pretty picture. The NC won and set a course to “get to the bottom of things” and for many chiefs and grassroots citizens this is good news! We all want to know, “Where does the money go?” because my life at home is still the same.

We hear our people say “I have no house, no job” and see our people self-medicating which has created gangs and addiction resulting in the loss of our children. More than 80 per cent of the children in the care of the state today are Indigenous, and we make up less than five per cent of the Canadian population. So, if the AFN is not helping us improve our lives at home, we at least want to know what they are doing with the money they get to help us.

Boom! Senior staff accuse her of being a bully and workplace harassment and when she tells the truth, without specifics, regarding the settlement expectations of those dismissed, she is further accused of breaching confidentiality! Here in the communities, there are numerous colonial ideas and mechanisms to maintain order that we are imposing upon ourselves, and confidentiality is one that our own governments regularly use against us as the reason they cannot tell us what’s going on. My husband recently said to me “if they are making decisions on my behalf that are supposed to be good for me with the money, they receive to help me, why can’t I know who made the decisions and why and how much money was spent?” So, for us, it’s not just about the money. It’s about who is making these decisions on our behalf.

No. Sorry. Can’t tell you that, “it’s confidential” and we most often hear that around what those who are in our service are paid to be of service. I’m of the view that, like other government public servants in Canada, our government public servants should be required to make their salaries and expenses public. If you’re not doing anything wrong and are doing good work for us, what are you so worried about?  And, this should go for the hundreds of consultants and lawyers that are feeding their families on our backs.

Instead, we end up demonized as “bitchy band members” who are literally violent, and our governments force us to engage in corporate and legal solutions that from an Indigenous perspective are violent and further fracture our already wounded families and communities — that’s why the prevailing view of the many Indigenous women I’ve spoken with over the last two days is — disgust, anger and sadness.

And then, there’s the moose in the room that no one wants to talk about — misogyny — fancy word for male privilege. Some are saying this is not a gender issue and that National Chief Archibald is detracting from the real issues at the grassroots that the AFN is supposed to be tackling. I went “live” inside the private group I created on Dec. 12, 2020, called Deadly Kookoms & Aunties, and by the way, we now have almost 23,000 members in our group with a constant activity rate of 60 per cent or higher, and the overwhelming feedback was that — this is wrong, sad and grandmothers and aunties at home are not impressed. And most grassroots Indigenous women commented that this IS a gender issue, and they are sure this would not be happening with such toxicity if our NC was a man. Why are we going for the throat? Why are we evaluating woman leaders differently than male leaders? Because misogyny is a colonial practice. 

So, I’m left asking. If this is not a gender issue, why was the motion moved by two female chiefs when overwhelmingly the chiefs are, what, 80 per cent male? Were there no male chiefs that could’ve moved the motion because, after all, it’s not a gender issue? And I wonder if a woman will be appointed the interim NC when there are other members of the AFN executive who are men with years of experience at these tables if this is not a gender issue?

Does misogyny and sexism play a role here? There are differing perspectives and I just want us to talk about the moose in the room and hear each other and seriously engage with these important questions. My preference would have been to have these difficult conversations internally, but the AFN executive has made our inability to deal with our internal conflicts public and world news! 

What is my motive here? I’m reminded of Oka, when my husbands’ people sent two Tlingit women to support the Mohawk behind the lines. Jennie and I were in law school and the BBC had called her for an interview, and she didn’t want to do it. I said, speak for me Jennie. Speak for everyone BBC is not calling. So, I have been asked to speak, and I am speaking. That’s all I want to raise the questions. That’s all.

In closing, what IS going on here? Why is there such resistance to even talking about ousting our first female NC using colonial processes that many see as toxic and violent? I’m again reminded of another moment of intense conflict where my husbands’ aunt suddenly jumped up in the meeting and yelled, “What’s going on here? Are we all having an alcoholic blackout?” Why won’t we talk about the moose in the room?

Joan Jack is an Ojibway woman and member of the Berens River First Nation in Manitoba. She is also married and adopted into the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in B.C. She is a mother to many children, a grandmother and auntie to many more. Besides being a lawyer and educator, Joan is an activist and is proud to say stands for Indigenous women always and has most recently created a private Facebook group to bring together Indigenous grandmothers and aunties and her group now has over 20,000 members and an average activity rate of over 80 per cent. Learn more here:

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