(Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak. APTN/Photo)
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
A long dormant governing body within in the Assembly of First Nations is set to hold its first meeting in a decade this week in Ottawa, says the head of Manitoba’s largest chiefs organization.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said the Confederacy of Nations is set to meet Wednesday.
“I have put out a notice to the Manitoba chiefs that there is a Confederacy meeting happening and there will be a number of chiefs going to Ottawa,” said Nepinak.
Nepinak said he also expects delegates from Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Quebec and the Northwest Territories to attend the meeting.
The Confederacy last met in 2004.
The chiefs in Ontario initiated the call for the Confederacy of Nations meeting. Over 40 chiefs signed a letter addressed to AFN CEO Peter Dinsdale asking him to find a venue and provide logistical support for the meeting.
“At least five regions of the AFN whose total membership consists of well over 50 per cent of the membership population have agreed to call, convene and participate in a meeting of the Confederacy of Nations,” said the letter, dated this past Friday. “They have also confirmed that the number of official delegates they will be sending will be well over the 50 per cent quorum specified in the (AFN) charter.”
The AFN executive, however, decided against Ontario’s request during a conference call Friday. Quebec regional Chief Ghislain Picard wrote Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy the same day informing him of the decision. Picard said the meeting could only be called by the AFN chiefs in assembly.
AFN CEO Peter Dinsdale also wrote Beardy saying the Confederacy did not have quorum and could not trigger an official meeting.
“Other regions have not identified a process for identifying their duly selected members, so I am unable to achieve quorum for a call from Confederacy of Nations members. It is for these reasons that I do not have the authority to comply with this request as it has been submitted,” wrote Dinsdale.
The executive’s decision, however, is based on one interpretation of the AFN’s charter and proponents of the meeting see it another way, said Nepinak.
“The onus is on the (AFN’s) members,” said Nepinak. “There will be different interpretations.”
Serpent River First Nation Chief Isadore Day said he hopes the AFN executive, some who will be present at the meeting, won’t try to subvert attempts to make the Confederacy gathering an official event.
“It would be in the best interest of the executive to make this work. If the executive is smart what they will do is they will find a way to make it work,” said Day, whose community sits in Ontario. “We don’t have time to jockey this thing back and forth or play politics on this issue.”
Day said the push to hold the Confederacy meeting is driven by a desire by some of the leadership and grassroots to get back to the “roots” of the AFN.
“What the Confederacy of Nations wants is to get back to the spirit and intent of the AFN,” he said. “This really is I believe a turning point for the AFN.”
The Confederacy of Nations is separate from the AFN executive and, under the AFN’s charter, has oversight role over the executive. Under the charter, the Confederacy is supposed to meet quarterly.
Despite the AFN executive’s decision, work continued by organizers throughout the weekend to iron out the logistical details for the meeting.
Beardy told APTN National News on Sunday that work was ongoing to ensure the meeting complied with the AFN charter.
“We are still looking at where we are at in terms of numbers and what the options are,” said Beardy.
Nepinak said elements within First Nation leadership are trying to use the “ambiguity” around the concept of the Confederacy to stop the process.
“There are people that may try to hide behind ambiguity, that there are too many questions with respect to process in order to make this happen,” he said. “Regardless of ambiguity, we have to come together as leadership and make leadership decisions.”
Nepinak said the AFN executive could not stop a decision to hold a Confederacy meeting. Nepinak said a situation deemed to be an emergency by a member of the AFN is enough to trigger a Confederacy meeting.
He said the Harper government’s First Nation education bill, which is currently on hold in Parliament, and the recent resignation of former AFN national chief Shawn Atleo met the threshold of an emergency.
“I can’t speculate as to who in the (AFN) executive is making attempts to try to prevent the meeting from happening,” said Nepinak. “It is a really bad political maneuver. It will come out.”
The AFN chiefs committee on education is also meeting on Thursday to discuss Bill C-33, the First Nation Control of First Nation Education. A special AFN chiefs assembly is scheduled for May 27, also in Ottawa.
The Confederacy of Nations has the powers of an oversight body within the AFN charter and it has the authority to direct the national chief and demand accountability. The body is separate from the “chiefs in assembly” which includes the chiefs and their proxies who attend the organization’s bi-annual assemblies.
It met quarterly from 1982 to 2004 and then faded from use.
The body, which is made up of representatives chosen by each of the 10 regions plus one representative for every 10,000 First Nations people in each region, has the power to hold its own meetings. Based on Statistics Canada data, a Confederacy meeting would have about 75 delegates