Opinion: Words are not enough; Indigenous leadership must take action on Shane Gottfriedson case

NWAC says the AFN National Chief and executive must take action on Shane Gottfriedson case.

Special to APTN National News
Many people have heard about, or have seen, the inappropriate picture AFN BC Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson posted of himself on Instagram.

On Tuesday, he apologized and stepped down as the Assembly of First Nations’ (AFN) Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls portfolio holder.

Read APTN’s stories here: Shane Gottfriedson

Since then, I’ve been questioned by Indigenous women and men as to whether his withdrawal and apology is a sufficient demonstration of his understanding of and true regret for his indiscretion.

I’ve been surprised to hear that there are some women and men who weren’t offended by the photo.

They didn’t feel that he needed to apologize for anything, that the picture was of his feet, and that it was funny. I had to wonder, at what point would they have considered it inappropriate?

Would the picture have to be graphic in order to be considered unseemly?

Is he immune to scrutiny because he’s a Chief?

Finally, would we accept this if it came from our mayor, a premier, the prime minister, or another person with a respected title?

Every leader needs to be involved in creating a safe space for women, especially one whose office’s handling of a high-profile portfolio is often under public scrutiny.

I’ve known Shane Gottfriedson for many years and have taken into account that he’s done some good work.

I also recognize that his position as a national leader and the nature of his work demand heightened expectations of his behavior. A person who is advocating on behalf of Indigenous women who are being victimized, discriminated, assaulted, and disrespected across Canada needs to show and better judgment.

Therefore, I insist that escalated action be taken immediately by the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, the AFN Executive Committee, its Councils, and its chiefs.

An apology is just words and, we as Indigenous people know that when we hear such words from other groups, departments, or governments, they are not enough.

Only actions can show that they accept responsibility and that they are deserving of our renewed trust.

This is not a single incident.

Aboriginal women have had to deal with ‘inappropriate’ actions, words, jokes, innuendos, pictures, and more from both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal men for decades.

My mother experienced it. I experience it. My daughter experiences it.

And too many other women, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike, have experienced it.

As the 16 days of Action to End Violence Against Women draws to a close, I wish to address all of the National Indigenous Organizations.

I propose that we implement sensitivity training for our members and further recommend that they demonstrate their commitment to protecting women’s rights through supporting initiatives such as the Moosehide campaign or the University of Calgary’s “I’ll Stand Up” event. We, as Indigenous people, should expect our elected Indigenous representatives to act as role models.

It will be their examples that set a standard for the community and we are better than a lascivious emoji.

Francyne D. Joe, Interim President, Native Women’s Association of Canada

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