In her first news conference at national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Cindy Woodhouse says job one is to unite what many see as a fractured, irrelevant organization.
“It’s important that we unite more than ever,” said Woodhouse who is the former regional chief of the national advocacy organization that represents more than 600 First Nations across the country. “We’re facing many crises in this country and our people are facing the highest poverty in this country and are the fastest growing demographic.”
Woodhouse said the AFN needs to have a strong position to amplify the voices of First Nations peoples and that the “top-down approach from governments in this country needs to stop.”
Another issue Woodhouse said is at the top of her list is infrastructure and to ensure that resources get to communities across the country.
“We have inherent rights in this country. All of these lands are Indian lands,” she said.
Woodhouse said she spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after her victory and the two spoke about policing, housing and economic development.
“Making sure First Nations people are not longer left out of the economy of this country,” said Woodhouse.
That unity and relations with the federal government may be easier said than done.
Some see the AFN as being too close to the government while others consider it irrelevant.
Cara Currie Hall has been involved in the AFN off and on for more than two decades.
She was a staffer to former national chief Matthew Coon Come and worked for Sheila North in this election.
Currie Hall said the AFN has been ineffective in recent years because the organization has been divided in recent years but it can be effective if it is united.
“We’re very, very powerful when we’re united and we must come back together because there are bigger issues that continue to affect our rights, continue to threaten our existence through memorandums of understanding and legislative pieces,” she said. “So, it’s really imperative that we re-unite.”
Jeffrey Copenance, chief of the Onigaming First Nation, said if First Nations organizations like the AFN want to be effective they have to set a higher standard upon themselves of zero-tolerance of any sort of discriminatory behaviour.
“It’s incumbent on men, all First Nations and Anishinabe men across this country, to speak up and protect our women and girls at all costs.”