RoseAnne Archibald’s political future appears more uncertain than ever after chiefs voted Tuesday in favour of replacing her as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).
But she didn’t go out with a whimper.
Instead Archibald, using another chief’s proxy, delivered a searing rebuke in a virtual rant as chiefs rejected her pleas for another chance.
“What is being triggered in your heart? It’s hatred,” she told the chiefs. “It’s resentment. It’s based on lies, it’s based on gossip, it’s based on innuendo.”
Archibald was removed through a special vote a few weeks ago after making history in 2021 as the first woman to lead the organization.
Her shortened tenure was marked by tumult, including a suspension last year over human resources complaints and a reinstatement at last year’s general assembly.
Chiefs voted 143 to 28 in favour of a resolution to appoint a chief electoral officer to oversee the election of her replacement. The new national chief would serve until July 2027.
Archibald, who served as Ontario regional chief before taking the helm, has said she was targeted because of her efforts to fight alleged corruption.
Appearing by video, she lambasted her treatment within the organization as disrespectful and an example of “lateral violence.”
She alleged the organization had “gone off the rails” and blasted the independent third-party review into complaints against her as “incomplete” and full of “bias.”
However, the chief of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation in Quebec said the AFN was in danger of becoming irrelevant if it didn’t get rid of Archibald.
“I did support the national chief when she was elected in 2021,” said Dylan Whiteduck. “It’s just time to move on. We have very intelligent people across Canada. Many First Nations people could step up. Many female First Nations people could step into the role, but it was just time to move on.
“There was mention of railroading. We are at the stage where the whole organization was about to be railroaded.”
The review, which was conducted by a law firm, concluded that some of Archibald’s behaviour amounted to harassment. Investigators also found she breached the organization’s policies by retaliating against complainants and failing to maintain confidentiality.
“You haven’t read the report,” Archibald told the chiefs.
She also wagged her finger.
After several minutes of speaking, a co-chair of the meeting announced that based on its rules, it would no longer be admitting Archibald into its annual assembly.
That announcement was met with applause in the room.
But former Algonquins of Pikwakanagan chief in Ontario Wendy Jocko said she remains firmly behind Archibald.
“I certainly was a strong supporter of National Chief RoseAnne Archibald,” she said. “I did nominate her when the chiefs did vote her in (in 2021).
“So, I was certainly a bit disappointed to find out the latest deposing of the national chief. It came as a shock considering we went through this scenario last year at this very time in Vancouver (2022 assembly).”
In a statement released before the gathering in Halifax, Archibald told supporters she would attend virtually on Tuesday but might attend in person later in the week. The event runs until Thursday.
Earlier in the day, Archibald had unsuccessfully urged chiefs to reject the agenda set out for the meeting, and at least three chiefs tried to bring her reinstatement up for debate. Those resolutions failed.
Joanna Bernard, a regional chief from New Brunswick who was tapped to serve in the role temporarily, addressed the assembly for the first time since Archibald’s ouster and committed to rebuild confidence in its governance.
“We know the decision was not taken lightly and was a result of careful consideration by the leadership and representatives of our nations,” Bernard said.
Not all chiefs were present for the vote to remove Archibald. It happened June 28 at a special chiefs’ assembly held to address the findings of an investigation into five staff members’ complaints. Of the 231 chiefs who took part, 71 per cent voted to remove her.
Made the decision
Terry Teegee, regional chief for British Columbia, told reporters on Tuesday that even if not all were present, chiefs made the decision – not members of the assembly’s executive committee, whom Archibald has accused of orchestrating her removal.
“We followed the rules, wherever it fell in terms of the vote, and that was decided by the chiefs.”
The fact Archibald was the first woman to hold the role as national chief has sent a chill over other female First Nations leaders, said Joyce Naytowhow McLeod, chief of Montreal Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan. She called the decision to remove Archibald “a disgrace,” adding it makes her feel “powerless.”
“The message is ‘just stay quiet, don’t voice anything’,” she said. “We deal with that enough back home, as women chiefs.”
As chiefs prepare to elect a new permanent leader later in the year, Bernard told those gathered that she hopes to see “strong women leaders” come forward, but added they should select a candidate who is committed to unity regardless of their gender.
She said work was underway to address the shortcomings within the organization and “rebuilding staff morale,” pointing to efforts around bolstering its whistleblower policies, code of conduct and the process for reporting harassment.
Bernard pledged that the organization wanted to offer a “safe and supportive environment where all individuals can speak up without fear of retaliation.”
Archibald has alleged she was pushed out for demanding a financial audit.
Bernard expressed an openness during her speech Tuesday to Archibald’s push for a financial audit, saying the organization’s financial statements are audited annually, and rejected the former chief’s claims around problematic spending.
If a committee tasked with examining the issue believes a forensic audit is necessary, “we will follow that guidance,” Bernard said, adding she is committed to maintaining stability despite the challenging period of transition that now lies ahead.
Before the gathering got underway, the organization announced it was sharing the past decade’s worth of independent, audited financial statements, which it said “confirm the absence of any financial concerns.”
Teegee said it’s “disappointing” that the attention paid to Archibald’s leadership has meant slow progress on key files, including safe drinking water, housing, the drug crisis and climate change.
He rejected the belief that anything has been fully derailed, but acknowledged that turmoil has slowed the assembly’s work. “Over the next few days, hopefully we can pick up the slack.”
Annie Bernard-Daisley, co-chair of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs, said during the opening of the assembly that it’s time to move on to more pressing issues.
“We have people in our community sitting in poverty, being murdered, a Winnipeg landfill not being searched,” she said. “The longer we delay, the less we will do for our own people. Let’s check our ego at the door and do our job.”
Garrison Settee, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, said it’s time to focus on the “dire situation” in First Nations communities.
“The chiefs are moving on,” he said.
With files from CP’s Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa.