Sunday December 14, 2014

Is the Assembly of First Nations still relevant?

National chief Perry Bellegarde speaks after being elected on the first ballot at the Assembly of First Nations Election in Winnipeg on Wednesday, December 10, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan

National chief Perry Bellegarde speaks after being elected on the first ballot at the Assembly of First Nations Election in Winnipeg on Wednesday, December 10, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan (The Canadian Press)

Listen 12:57

Two years ago the Idle No More movement made it clear: there are a lot of aboriginal people in Canada who feel like they don't have a voice.
And after National Chief Shawn Atleo abruptly resigned in May, even the group that is supposed to be that voice - The Assembly of First Nations - has struggled to maintain a united force.

The Assembly met this week in Winnipeg to choose a new National Chief. Saskatchewan's Perry Bellegarde was chosen on the first ballot but a lot of chiefs didn't even show up to vote.

Some of those chiefs say they didn't attend because the AFN just doesn't matter. Sara Mainville is the chief of the Couchiching First Nation in Northwestern Ontario and she says the AFN is no longer relevant.

'It was created a time when there was a need and it was difficult for us to get to Ottawa, so having someone in Ottawa voicing our concerns was useful and helpful. But I think you know in this day and age, I know there's a mandate for the Assembly, but it's not an over-arching mandate, it's definitely not an umbrella organization for the First Nations themselves.' - Chief Sarah Mainville

Manitoba lawyer and activist Joan Jack ran for National Chief of the Assembly in 2009.She says there is still an important role for the Assembly.

"I think the value of the AFN to the individual person on the ground is more one of is more one of role-modelling and a feeling of comfort whether your issues are being taken forth to the world and to Canadians."