Chiefs want work to get done at Assembly of First Nations general assembly despite leader's suspension
Annual general assembly takes place July 5-7 in Vancouver
Chiefs from across Canada are gathering in Vancouver this week as the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is set to hold its first in-person general assembly in three years.
The 43rd annual assembly, titled Walking the Healing Path, takes place July 5-7 on the territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations.
It comes amid growing division and tension at the AFN, which advocates for 634 First Nations, following the suspension of national chief RoseAnne Archibald.
Regional chiefs suspended her last month after she made public statements accusing four staff members of requesting more than $1 million in severance payouts. She has also been calling for a forensic audit alleging corruption within the organization.
However, chiefs in attendance at the assembly hope the situation won't overshadow the scheduled agenda. The annual general assemblies are meant for leaders to set priorities and the strategic direction for the organization.
"We need to keep focus on what we're doing and the reason why we're here," said Chief Ralph Leon of the Sts'ailes First Nation in B.C.
"Our people in our communities depend on us to do good work, so we need to continue doing that."
While the assembly officially opens Tuesday, dialogue sessions took place Monday on housing, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, specific claims, languages, and policing. They are issues that will be discussed throughout the week during the assembly.
48 draft resolutions
For Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse, child welfare needs to be a top priority.
"It's so important that we stay focused because we have little children who are waiting for us to change things for them, for the better," she said.
"We have families waiting to be reunited. We have a really broken child welfare system that we have to change."
A total of 48 draft resolutions will be discussed during the assembly. The national chief also faces an expected vote of non-confidence. Archibald was initially barred from attending the Vancouver assembly but the AFN reversed that decision.
Dalton Silver, chief of Sumas First Nation in B.C., expressed similar sentiments to Leon's.
"It's definitely a distraction from the business at hand that a lot of our nations want to get done at an assembly like this regarding our interactions with the federal government," said Silver.
"A lot of what is going on is possibly administrative back at headquarters in Ottawa and I wish it would be dealt with there but it seems like it [will] take place on the main plenary of the assembly."
with files from Yvette Brend, Francine Compton