Who will be the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) for the next 3 years? That is the question the Chiefs across Canada will be determining next Wednesday July 18th in Toronto. If it’s hot in Toronto this week, the political heat will only add to the soaring temperatures that will be experienced during the AFN Annual General Assembly.
Will the National Chief finally be a woman? Will Shawn Atleo be re-elected? Will it be a person from a treaty Nation? The fact that there are 8 candidates, the most ever in an AFN election, shows there is unrest across the country with the leader in place and this slate of 8 people think they are up for the job. The fact that there are 4 women running for the position is a sign of the times. Never before has a woman led the organization though a few have tried. Are the male chiefs in this country ready for a woman National Chief? Will it be the Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus an experienced leader who has been a leading spokesperson in climate change and the major development opposition front and extremely well versed in treaty? Will it be Terrence Nelson who is a firebrand and has run unsuccessfully before? Could it be Joan Jack who is leading the charge on residential day schools? Or Pam Palmater who only recently got her status as an Indian with no experience in the communities or politics? Only time will tell who the Chiefs will chose.
While there is a lot of hype across the country by First Nation individuals, polls being voted on by people, one has to remember that only the Chiefs or their proxies have the power to vote. 630+ possible votes (number on the AFN website).
The Chiefs across this country do not have political parties and so when you run for National Chief, the Chiefs are assessing the individual. Can that person be an eloquent spokesperson? Can that person move the political agenda with the Federal Government to resolve the huge issues facing First Nations in housing, health, education, economic development, land claims, fiscal relations, etc., etc., etc. What has the person done in the past and what can they do in the future? Can this person bring unity to the First Nations? What about helping to stop mega developments that First Nations are opposed to? If you are the current National Chief seeking re-election such as Shawn, the Chiefs will be assessing what was accomplished by him, how many of the motions that the Chiefs passed been implemented?
What are the main issues in this election that I am seeing and hearing across the country?
1. The Joint Action plan and a National Education Act.
2. The Crown First Nations gathering and its proposed plan.
3. The ability of the Current National Chief to address treaty issues in a comprehensive way that is needed.
4. The “closeness” of the current National Chief to the federal government making him an ineffective person to speak out against this government and their issues.
I am not going to go into these issues to any great extent as there are many views and some of them will be addressed Thursday night on APTN National News leadership debate.
The authority and accountability of National Chief is defined in the Charter of the AFN www.afn.ca/index.php/en/about-afn/charter-of-the-assembly-of-first-nations: (emphasis added)
1. The National Chief shall have NO INHERENT POLITICAL AUTHORITY
2. Any Authority the National Chief may have shall derive exclusively and entirely from authority granted from time to time by the First Nations-in-Assembly.
3. As a leader who exercises delegated mandates, authority, responsibilities and duties, the National Chief has a sacred political trust to comply in every respect with the direction given by the First Nations-in-Assembly, the Confederacy of Nations and the Executive Committee.
Therefore, the National Chief cannot take action unless specifically mandated by the Chiefs and cannot act on his own. That is one of the issues of this current election. Where did the authority come from for the Joint Action plan and a National Education Act? Or for getting rid of the Indian Act in 5 years? (from my calculations the NC has 3 years to accomplish this with no apparent plan.) For someone who wants to get rid of the Indian Act, why is Shawn promoting another National Act on Education where self government is displaced by another federal act where the chiefs have no vote and is only another form of an Indian Act?
It is not easy being the National Chief, it really can be a 24/7 job and everyone’s expectations are different. Every First Nation has different priority of issues depending on what is happening within their territories and in their communities. What is the role and function of the National Chief? Again referring to the Charter (emphasis added):
1. The National Chief is a member of, and is not separate and apart from the Executive Committee. He (or she) functions as a member of a COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP.
2. The National Chief shall take direction from the Executive Committee as a unit, and, with the Executive Committee, is responsible to the Confederacy of Nations and to the First Nations-in-Assembly.
3. The National Chiefs has a political role and is the primary spokesperson of the AFN...
The question arising from some of the roles and functions I have listed here is how effective is the person who is seeking the office of National Chief in being a team player? How inclusive can the person be in using the expertise of each of the regional Chiefs who work on behalf of the Chiefs in their province? From everything I have read in the Charter, the National Chief cannot work alone or work on his own direction but must work with the executive. I also understand this is an issue for the Chiefs when decisions are made and they ask their regional chiefs why something was done and the regional chiefs do not know the answers. Another element for the Chiefs to think about as they select the National Chief.
Candidates for national chief are only allowed to receive $35,000 in campaign donations to do their campaigning. This is a miniscule amount if you look at this large country and the expense of going to all the communities or at minimum going to meetings where there are provincial or regional gatherings of Chiefs. Social media is a great tool but never takes the place of meeting the candidate in person and hearing their views.
The election process can be gruelling as the last one went all night. The winner must receive 60% of the vote of the registered First Nations. Many ballots can be held until the successful candidate receives 60% of the ballots cast or the closest contender concedes as Perry Bellegarde did last election.
If you do not receive 15 votes in the first ballot, your name is taken off the ballot. On top of that, the person with the lowest amounts of votes is taken off the ballot in each round. With 8 people running, it will be very interesting to see what will happen.
The office of the National Chief is very important to the chiefs in this country and finding a candidate to carry out that role honourably and effectively is not an easy job. There are so many issues to be resolved. I have always been of the opinion that we need a leader who can make our issues election issues and have yet to have seen that kind of leader. I know each of you will have your own opinion of what issues are important and who the National Chief should be. We will all be cheering on our candidates next Wednesday, or Thursday if there is extensive voting again.
I honour all the candidates for putting their names forward for a very tough job with an aim to better the living conditions of our people. Wishing all the candidates the best of luck and hoping that you are running on your own merits and not attempting to tear down the other candidates to make yourself look better. This is our politics and respect and honour should be foremost! At the end of the day, we all support the National Chief regardless of who wins and how much easier is that when you have run a clean campaign. The National Chief has a sacred political trust that he/she owes to the Chiefs in this country and there can be no higher mandate and that trust starts the moment your name is put forward.