In an exclusive interview with APTN News, Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald says the structure of the national lobby organization mixed with the demises of the confederation of nations guarantees its dysfunction.
“It’s really about the colonial structure. It’s really about this thing that encases us – it’s not a personal thing,” Archibald told APTN producer Paul Barnsley on Wednesday. “When you are encased in a colonial patriarchal structure then you can be guaranteed toxicity, you can be guaranteed imbalance, you can be guaranteed these kinds of things of things that have happened at the AFN.”
The Confederacy of Nations is an arm of the AFN that was created to “review, interpret and enforce decisions and directions of the First Nations-in-Assembly and provide ongoing direction to the AFN and the Executive Committee between Assemblies.”
But it’s been defunct for some time.
Archibald says that led to the whirlwind 48 hour period where she was suspended, on the AFN agenda in Vancouver, then off, then on again.
It all started June 17 when she was informed by the AFN’s executive, made up of chiefs from across the country, that she had been suspended as national chief for various reasons.
“Our natural laws have been impacted and interfered with by colonialism,” she said. “So it’s a much bigger issue for sure.
The national advocacy group headed into its annual summer assembly rocked by an internal controversy that has exploded publicly in an all-out political feud with allegations of corruption and bullying, swirling alongside threats of litigation and challenges to Archibald’s leadership.
The regional chiefs and national chief serve both as the AFN’s executive committee and as the board of directors for its corporate arm, the National Indian Brotherhood. The national chief chairs executive meetings and casts the tiebreaker during votes.
The executive committee purported to suspend Archibald after she went public slamming what she called “corruption and collusion” at AFN along with her unnamed political opponents.
It’s drawn harsh criticism from prominent First Nations pundits.
A resolution calling for her firing was tabled at the AFN’s meeting in Vancouver but was soundly defeated on July 5.
Archibald is calling for a forensic audit of the AFN and specifically about contracts awarded various people including staff.
That resolution was tabled Wednesday – but a vote on it was postponed until Thursday morning.
Archibald was asked if the call for transparency and accountability is making people within the AFN and the federal government uncomfortable.
“There’s an old saying, you cannot dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools,” Archibald responded. “That means we have to have an arms-length relationship with any government whether they’re Liberal, P.C., NDP, whatever the party is. We have to have that space. We can’t be enmeshed with anybody and so if the governments decide to be punishing about that then that says more about them then it says about us.”
“That’s really important to talk about. The use of public funds by federal governments, provincial governments to punish First Nations or to co-opt them – that’s a bigger issue.”
Archibald was subjected to a bullying probe in February 2021, which she maintained was retaliation for her push for an independent review of the organization’s financial policies and practices.
Investigator Bryna Hatt was retained to conduct the probe but closed it without interviewing Archibald, then Ontario regional chief, after no one lodged a formal complaint in writing.
Hatt’s investigation nevertheless noted the allegations appeared credible, but Archibald maintained the investigation lacked procedural fairness.
Archibald maintains the latest bullying allegations against her are retaliation for her refusal to approve $1 million in payouts to staff.
When asked about contracts paid out by the AFN and the payout, Archibald said she was only able to release information to chiefs – and not the media.
“My obligation is to the chiefs and that’s what I’ve been doing since this whole thing started and that’s what one of the chiefs in the meeting talked about he was like ‘I’ve received 15 emails from you’ and previous not many. I have an obligation to tell the chiefs the truth and they are actually taking action. When they voted to not uphold the purported suspension that was them saying ‘ok we’re going to take control of this situation.’
“You’re going to see chiefs more active. You’re going to see chiefs directing this organization. You’re going to see less of the tail wagging the dog as one chief put it earlier, you’re going to see an organization powered by chiefs.”
Two Algonquin chiefs put forward a draft resolution calling for an end to the purported suspension of Archibald, a third-party forensic audit into the organization’s contracts and payouts, and a third-party probe into “toxicity, corruption, gender discrimination and lateral violence at the AFN.”
The vote on whether to go ahead with the forensic audit of the AFN will take place Thursday morning. APTN will carry the debate and vote live.
With files from Dennis Ward and Brett Forester