Chiefs say no to rare measure amid education act strife

CBC News has learned the Assembly of First Nations national executive committee has decided against convening a long-dormant governing body called the Confederacy of Nations.

Push for meeting of long-dormant governing body, used in between scheduled meetings, denied

AFN Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy had requested a convening of the Confederacy of Nations to respond to Ottawa's proposed education bill. The AFN's national executive committee decided against the idea on Friday. (CBC)

CBC News has learned the Assembly of First Nations national executive committee has decided against convening a long-dormant governing body called the Confederacy of Nations.

The Confederacy is a mechanism by which chiefs can give direction to the AFN in between scheduled annual assemblies, but it hasn't been used in about 10 years.

Some First Nations leaders saw the call for a confederacy as an attempt by those who want to kill the education bill to influence the AFN's response to the legislation.

While there is widespread opposition to the government's legislation, known as the First Nations control of First Nations education act, some aboriginal leaders say it can be improved without throwing it out, particularly because it came with nearly $2 billion in funding with yearly increases.

However, the decision on the confederacy means the May 27 special assembly of chiefs meeting the executive has called will be where the official response to the education legislation will be drafted. It is also where chiefs will decide when to elect a new national chief.

On May 1, Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy called for the confederacy. Beardy said it was urgent because the federal government's controversial First Nations education reform bill was at second reading and the next AFN assembly was not until July.

But Beardy's fellow executive members have said no, telling him the situation has changed.

"As you are aware, some circumstances have changed since these letters were submitted. On May 2, 2014 Shawn Atleo resigned his position as national chief and on May 5, 2014 the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development stated that Bill C-33 is being placed 'on hold' until the Assembly of First Nations 'clarifies its position,'" said AFN executive spokesperson and Quebec Regional Chief Ghislain Picard in a letter to Beardy on Friday.

Under the AFN charter, it takes a majority of regional chiefs to agree to the confederacy. The confederacy also requires a certain number of regional representatives to attend.

In another letter to Beardy, the AFN's acting chief executive officer Peter Dinsdale indicated on Friday that while Ontario appears ready to move ahead, there isn't quorum to call such a meeting.

"Other regions have not identified a process for identifying their duly selected members, so I am unable to achieve quorum for a call from Confederacy of Nations members. It is for these reasons that I do not have the authority to comply with this request as it has been submitted," wrote Dinsdale.

In other words, because the mechanism has not been used in a decade, many of the regions wouldn't have had those people selected in time to go.

As well, it appears the executive committee is concerned about trying to pull off such a major meeting for May 14, just days away.

"The executive committee discussed this on a conference call today and have reconfirmed their concern about the timing and logistical considerations for the proposed meeting," said Dinsdale in the letter.

But Nova Scotia and Newfoundland regional chief Morley Goo Goo said that doesn't mean there can't be a meeting on that day even if it isn't be a full-fledged Confederacy of Nations.

"I understand the importance of listening to all points of view from all regions," Goo Goo said when contacted by CBC News. "And we're committed to doing that."

May 14 is also the day slated for a National Day of Resistance by First Nations.