The reaction to a debate at the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on ending sexual orientation and gender based discrimination within the organization was swift for Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald.
Shortly after the resolution calling for a review and investigation had passed, Archibald says she received an email from a chief in British Columbia, lashing out at her.
Archibald isn’t sharing the name of the chief or the details of the email, but she says it points to the need for the resolution and investigation in the first place.
During the debate at the AFN annual general meeting in December, Archibald said “this is not about political gain. This is about transforming this organization making it safe for women.”
Archibald says there have been meetings of the AFN executive that have not been safe spaces for women.
“When a woman walks into an AFN executive meeting she needs to feel welcomed, she needs to feel like she can inhabit leadership in a ways that’s not necessarily how its been inhabited, in the past,” says Archibald.
“For example, when I was younger, I’ve been through 30 years of experience’s that’s what I always say, and when I was younger I kind of felt like I wanted to fit in a bit more and maybe be one of the guys. I was often the only woman in the room. As I’ve gotten older, I realized that I needed to be genuinely myself and just to inhabit leadership from a heart-centred space. From a place of deep and abiding love and care.”
Archibald was first elected at the age of 23 when she became the first woman and youngest chief elected in Taykwa Tagamou First Nation.
Archibald, who was first elected Ontario Regional Chief in 2018, says the need for this review and investigation, predates her time at the AFN.
She also says it’s not just an AFN issue.
“I hear from other chiefs and other region leaders that they’ve had these kinds of incidences where they have felt like they’ve not been treated equitably by people that they work with. So, it’s definitely not a unique situation, it is happening at a rate that I would say is still to high in this day and age,” says Archibald.
“We’re in 2021 and we really need to have healthy spaces for women and safe spaces in order for them to exercise their leadership.”
The AFN will be selecting a new national chief this summer.
Perry Bellegarde announced last year that he would not be seeking a third term.
The organization has long been criticized as being out of touch with the grassroots with some saying the AFN is no longer relevant.
“I’m not sure if the word relevant is perhaps the best word to describe that out of touch feeling that people have with the AFN,” says Archibald.
“I certainly feel that decisions that are made within the structures that is the AFN is not a grassroots decision making process and I think that everybody will acknowledge that. And I just believe we have to get there someday.”
Currently, only chiefs or their proxies vote for the National Chief but Archibald believes the day is coming when people will get a vote for national chief.
“We can’t keep going in a process where there’s that big disconnect between the people and the citizens that we are working for and thinking about in all our decisions and them just not being connected to us through a democratic elected process,” says Archibald.
The Ontario regional chief also feels a woman will one day hold the role of National Chief of the AFN and she’s hoping that will be the case in this coming election.
When asked if she was planning to run for national chief, Archibald says she has a chief’s meeting coming up and needs to speak with the 133 Chiefs of Ontario who elected her before she announces anything.