AFN special chiefs assembly winds up with resolutions, promises from prime minister

The Assembly of First Nations special chiefs assembly wrapped up on Thursday and the day’s events included a speech to delegates by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau told the assembly the government will not hesitate to move forward after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves on the sites of former residential schools this summer.

This includes the appointment of a special interlocutor.

“We know that continuing to move forward from the path of reconciliation cannot come without truth,” Trudeau said. “That’s why we’re appointing a special interlocutor to further advance justice on residential schools while ensuring that communities undertaking burial searches have what they need.

“The children who never returned home must not be forgotten. As a country, we must all continue hearing the truth of what happened to them and their communities.”

Over the course of three days, First Nations leaders from across Canada debated and discussed 20 resolutions in a number of areas including self-governance, health, education and treaty rights.

The assembly also saw the establishment of a 2SLGBTQ council.

As has been the case over the past two years, the forum was held virtually due to COVID-19 concerns and this created some technical glitches.

Delegates complained of being unable to participate in policy discussions via the social media application Zoom.

Others said there was not high enough participation to properly move forward on resolutions.

One delegate said there was only about four per cent of the roughly 600 chiefs that make up the AFN taking part in the online forum.

National Chief RoseAnne Archibald acknowledged the challenges of holding such a large meeting online but noted pre-COVID assemblies were also often hampered by low attendance.

She said the AFN needs to be more relevant to its membership if it wants greater participation.

This means focusing on a few key issues and having a greater separation between the political and administrative arms of the organization, Archibald said.

All part of the national chief’s strategic vision document.

“The issue around those who just don’t participate, I think speaks to why I made this presentation and why I ran and the basis upon which I am moving forward as national chief,” Archibald said.

“Is that so much of our processes are not strategic, they are reactionary. The criticism in the past is that we have followed the government agenda.”

However, not all chiefs agreed with Archibald.

Some said a more centralized AFN would mean less input from the regions.

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