Resolutions on child welfare barred from AFN assembly as chiefs raise concerns

AFN report

The Assembly of First Nations is not allowing resolutions on child welfare at its coming annual general assembly, including one that called for it to publicly apologize for comments made in front of a tribunal.

Khelsilem, a chairperson with Squamish Nation, brought forward a resolution related to reforms of Jordan’s Principle, a legal rule that ensures First Nations kids get the care they need when they need it, with payments to be worked out afterward.

Khelsilem, who goes by a single name, said even though he followed the assembly’s protocol, his resolution was barred from coming to the floor next month.

“I think it’s very inappropriate by AFN staff in the way that they’ve conducted themselves,” he said.

The AFN also barred a resolution moved by Osoyoos Indian Band which called for the AFN to publicly apologize for the “disrespect” shown to First Nations who view the potlatch ceremony as an integral aspect of their culture and sovereignty.

In May the AFN argued before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that it had been “unprecedented” for two kids to access funding through Jordan’s Principle to attend a potlatch ceremony for two deceased relatives.

Potlatches, which were banned for several decades by the federal government, are commonly held to mark major life events, including funerals. They typically involve feasts as well as spiritual and cultural practices.

In a document filed with the tribunal in the case discussing Canada’s non-compliance with Jordan’s Principle, the AFN argued that funding for the ceremony went beyond the scope of what should be allowed.

In an email to Khelsilem, the assembly said all resolutions regarding child welfare are being moved to a special chiefs assembly to be held in September, when chiefs are expected to debate and vote on a settlement of more than $20 billion with Canada on reforms to the child welfare system.

Some of the barred resolutions are directly related to that agreement, including Khelsilem’s. His resolution would see the AFN secure funding from Canada to hold engagement sessions on the agreement.

Khelsilem said that if these resolutions aren’t allowed to hit the floor at the assembly in July, they’ll essentially be moot. “They’re denying First Nations leadership the ability to actually discuss that.”

The Assembly of First Nations did not immediately respond to a request from The Canadian Press for comment.

The AFN told Khelsilem that some of the clauses in the barred resolution were in conflict with previous mandates from chiefs.

The AFN did not explain, when he asked, which sections explicitly conflicted with prior resolutions. While the assembly typically helps people fix their resolutions to align with previous mandates, he said the assembly did not do that.

“The process for engaging with AFN on this resolution has been very disturbing,” he wrote to the assembly in an email Wednesday after the resolution package was posted online.

Tensions have grown between National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak and some regional chiefs as the AFN gets closer to finalizing a deal with Ottawa on child welfare reforms that will exceed the $20 billion promised as part of the settlement agreement.

Three regional chiefs, representing British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Quebec-Labrador, said in a letter to Woodhouse Nepinak in early June that the assembly is overstepping its mandate in negotiating reforms with Canada, and that it’s attempting to sideline the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society from the process altogether.

The AFN and the caring society jointly launched the human-rights complaint about Ottawa’s chronic underfunding of on-reserve child welfare services that led to the settlement agreement.

Nearly half of the $43-billion settlement was earmarked for long-term reforms to the child welfare system across Canada.

But the three chiefs told Woodhouse Nepinak in their letter that the AFN has not shared details with First Nations outside of Ontario, and that the assembly has not held meetings on the negotiations since February.

They say that limits the ability for chiefs to give free, prior and informed consent on the agreement before it is finalized.

In a recent interview, Woodhouse Nepinak said First Nations in Ontario are part of the negotiations so they’re privy to details other jurisdictions may not currently have, and that the assembly is not responsible for the Caring Society’s decision to back out of negotiations.

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