Bigger beads and trinkets | Joan Jack

By Joan Jack

Law360 Canada (July 11, 2023, 9:33 AM EDT) --
Joan Jack
Joan Jack
So many thoughts racing through my mind! Come with me as I ramble through …

Following the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) special chiefs in assembly meeting on June 28, where 71 per cent of only one-third of the chiefs eligible to vote voted to remove our first female national chief (NC) from office, the AFN executive has now replaced her with another woman from the AFN executive because this is “not a gender issue.” On the Rez, we’d say “As if! Just tryin’ to look like you didn’t do anything wrong! Poof!” Not impressed.

I see that there are at least five men on the AFN executive, two of whom I know have been there for years. Why didn’t the AFN executive pick one of them as the best “person” for the interim job based on years of experience if this was not a gender issue? OK, what’s done is done. We have our second, albeit interim, female national chief who will serve until the full election in December 2023.

Dare I go on about misogyny? Just look at how the AFN executive handled things a few years ago when a male regional vice-chief faced Criminal Code charges of a sexual nature. Apparently, the AFN executive suspended him with pay while the investigation was undertaken. He won at trial and did not resume his position.

In this case, our first female national chief is accused of breaching an internal administrative HR policy, confidentiality, which is clearly not criminal law. The “breach” of this administrative HR policy was that she told the chiefs, whom she has a sacred duty to serve, and without naming names, that those she had dismissed were negotiating for severance packages in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and she did not think that was an appropriate use of limited AFN funds.

Moving along, the resulting investigative report found 93 per cent of the complaints against the NC were unsubstantiated, and yet the response of the AFN executive was to call an urgent special chiefs assembly that was poorly attended, provided only a summary of the investigative report, and she was voted out of office by one-third of the eligible voters. And don’t forget, an HR policy is not an alleged breach of the Criminal Code.

Something doesn’t add up from a grassroots perspective where we don’t see defences in the minute details of corporate or administrative law. This is really about the chiefs’ call for accountability and transparency within the AFN and particularly at the executive level and that call has been met with resistance using corporate legal and administrative policy tactics. 

Do the “grassroots” see that corporate law and administrative policies are being used to direct a particular outcome? What is going on? How many of our chiefs/councils understand what is really going on here? The AFN is a corporation — period. As a corporation, it is governed by corporate law that flows from and upholds “white” culture and values. I haven’t read the AFN charter or articles of incorporation and bylaws, so I’m assuming the “chiefs” are the corporate voting members. I once heard an old white man say, “The rules are made by those who show up and followed by those who don’t!” and there is a lot of truth in what he said. 

Just look at the power the AFN executive exercises to influence federal law and policy. Over the years, the AFN has been instrumental in the development of Canadian legislation and in the settlement of several class actions against the state. So, from the grassroots, and even at the AFN, we all sing the song that the AFN is “NOT” a government and is only a non-profit advocacy organization, when, in fact, the actions taken on our behalf result in legislation and policy “deals” that affect our daily lives — feel pretty governie to me (invented a new word)!

The AFN bureaucracy, executive included, supposedly exists to bring forward the resolutions of the chiefs to advocate on our behalf in accordance with the needs identified by our chiefs. But what happens is that high level meetings take place to implement those chiefs’ resolutions and administrative policy decisions are made that affect our lives here at home — it’s like there is what’s happening publicly and what happens behind the scenes. Oh right! That’s politics!!

Which brings me to a thought I’ve had for years. Many Indigenous people believe that the best thing for us to do is work with the winning party, which in our country has been either the Conservatives or the Liberals. What I wonder is, how has this strategy affected things for us in the communities? I find words fascinating and a few years ago when the buzz was all about collaborating and collaboration, I looked it up. Yuck! The online Oxford dictionary says to “cooperate traitorously with an enemy.” And ironically gives an example that “The indigenous elite with the colonizers”!!!

And, yes, some grassroots Indigenous people believe the AFN is simply an extension of the Liberal government and has been so for a long time. In past when we’ve had a national chief or two get too “uppity,” the AFN funding was coincidentally drastically cut. The same thing happens to our provincial/territorial organizations. A grand chief asserts a rights-based agenda and, boom, government funding to the “advocacy” organization is drastically cut.

Instead of using valuable time and resources to create space for our chiefs to debate issues and direct strategic collective responses, what happens is ministers come to the AFN “CHIEFS” assembly to tell us what a good job they are doing for us and how hopeful they are that the “gap” is closing. Not even! Another photo opp! What continues to be our truth is that we have the highest and/or disproportionate statistics in all areas and that’s not a good thing! We make up approximately five per cent of the Canadian population and have the most people in jail, most children in care, etc., etc. The gap is not closing.

Furthermore, many chiefs suspect there is corruption within the corporation in terms of some people getting more than their share of the moose meat! There are always those at the hunt who show up consistently, do as little as possible and expect to take home the prime cuts; of course, as a generous gift of respect for the hard work they do for everyone during hunting season! 

Now let’s talk about the forensic audit! The cry from the grassroots and many chiefs! Forensic audit! The response is to get rid of the NC leading this cry and claim there is no money, which we all know is complete BS! And that toxic, laterally violent, misogynistic corporate and administrative policy response is legitimate and justified within the legal reality that the AFN is nothing more than a non-profit corporation protecting itself. I’m so sorry. We are only doing our jobs. Sound familiar? The AFN annual funding is approximately $36 million, and they could not find any money for a forensic audit.

Now, the AFN executive appears to have removed the resolutions to reinstate RoseAnne Archibald as national chief and I couldn’t find the one calling for a forensic audit either.  Hmmmm. ... No connection here for sure! 

Well, this is an opinion piece, and my opinion represents the opinion of some at the grassroots, both men and women! And, like a good friend said recently, “I’m not close enough to the fire here to decide what’s really burning Joan.” Where are the facts anyway?

OK already, where do we go from here? I’ve also thought for years that we need at least two larger organizations. One that is based on moving forward within the context of the colonial laws with “enabling legislation” and another that is Indigenous and human rights-based that would create and hold space for the intent of our ancestors to mutually benefit in our own homelands.  But that’s for another opinion or another

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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