Attawapiskat woman says AFN moderator muzzled her from calling out BC regional chief over Instagram photo

A woman from Attawapiskat says she was warned against naming Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson before she spoke out against his continued role on the organization’s executive.

(Jocelyn Iahtail speaking at the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly Wednesday. Iahtail says she was told by an AFN official to not speak about BC Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson. Photo: APTN) 

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
A woman from Attawapiskat says she was warned against naming Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson before she spoke out against his continued role on the organization’s executive.

Gottfriedson, regional chief for British Columbia, resigned from the missing and murdered Indigenous women portfolio after he became embroiled in a controversy over an Instagram photo he posted showing his bare legs and a googly-eyed and red lip emoji near his crotch.

Jocelyn Iahtail, who is originally from Attawapiskat and currently lives in Ottawa, said she was told by one of the moderators of the AFN chiefs winter assembly at the Hilton Lac Leamy in Gatineau, Que., not to name Gottfriedson before she took the microphone to criticize his continued role on the executive.

“(The moderator) told me, ‘I received word that you are likely going to speak about one of our regional chiefs and you are being warned you cannot use his name or publicly attack him,’” said Iahtail. “I wanted to (mention his name) because it’s important, we do a lot of this political playing and beating around the bush. What message are we sending our children? What is it we are telling grown women? We can’t name our perpetrator?”

APTN National News asked the AFN for comment on Iahtail’s allegation, but there was no response as of this article’s posting.

In the moments leading up to her speech, AFN co-moderator Racelle Kooy could be seen talking to Iahtail. Kooy then walked onstage where co-moderator Harold Tarbell was sitting. They spoke off microphone, and both directly look at Iahtail during their conversation. It seemed Kooy also informed Ontario regional Chief Isadore Day of the issue.

Because only chiefs are allowed to speak at the floor microphone during AFN assemblies, Iahtail received the backing of Attawapiskat Chief Ignace Gull to speak to the room.

With Gull and Big Grassy River First Nation Elder Dougie Comegan standing behind her in support, Iahtail, who is an incest survivor and whose daughter was murdered, referred obliquely to Gottfriedson in her speech while the regional chief looked on from the stage.

“Events taking place on social media is attacking me as an incest survivor seeking justice. We need to speak to this issue,” said Iahtail. “We can’t live in an environment of don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel. We need to address what happened here at this forum.”

Iahtail said Gottfriedson’s Instagram photo, which has since been deleted, was a symptom of a larger issue among the male First Nation leadership that does not want to look inward and face the reality of misogyny and sexual violence in First Nation communities.

“We know that incest and sexual abuse is what’s behind the suicide epidemic,” said Iahtail, whose statement was met with widespread clapping in the conference hall.

Gottfriedson gave up the murdered and missing Indigenous women portfolio following public condemnation over his Instagram photo from the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Organization.

NWAC on Monday said it was “disturbed” by the photo and called on the AFN to rectify the situation.

Bernadette Marshall, vice president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Organization, called the photo “sick” and Gottfriedson should resign from his post as AFN regional chief.

Gottfriedson, who was filmed looking at his smart phone as Iahtail began to speak, left shortly after her speech.

Shane Gottfriedson on his phone
BC Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson was captured by an APTN camera looking down at his phone while Jocelyn Iahtail made her emotional statement.

“There are a lot of people upset with me,” said Gottfriedson, in an interview as he walked out the doors of the conference hall. “I think I made my apology, I talked to my Elders, we are working on a plan for myself to look at addressing that….There is no one who feels more bad than myself. I think, I’ve just been very remorseful for what happened and I just want to look at moving forward to look at my own healing plan as well.”

Gottfriedson said he doesn’t plan to resign from his role as AFN regional chief from B.C.

“I want him to resign” said Iahtail. “You cannot help others when you have not helped yourself. I am wearing a button that says, ‘I pledge to end violence.’ That’s from the AFN. You have to actually live by that. You have to be congruent.”

Elder Comegan said he agreed with Iahtail that Gottfriedson should resign.

“I think they (the AFN) are protecting the individual because they don’t want to embarrass him in public,” said Comegan. “I think he should be removed from whatever position he has been given and do some community work in his home community.”

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