Indigenous

First Nations leaders call for probe into gender-based discrimination within AFN

A pair of First Nations leaders are pushing for the Assembly of First Nations to agree to an independent investigation into discrimination against women and people of different sexual orientations within the organization.

Draft resolution to be voted on at upcoming Assembly of First Nations general assembly

Kwanlin Dün First Nation chief Doris Bill is seconding the draft resolution put forward to the AFN general assembly. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

A pair of First Nations leaders are pushing for the Assembly of First Nations to agree to an independent investigation into discrimination against women and people of different sexual orientations within the organization.

Chiefs and delegates from across the country will be tasked with deciding if they'll support that push at the assembly's annual general meeting on Dec. 8-9. 

The call for an independent investigation comes from Doris Bill, chief of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation in Yukon and Khelsilem, an elected councillor for the Squamish Nation in B.C., in the form of a draft resolution. 

The resolution's stated purpose is "to end sexual orientation and gender-based discrimination and all other forms of violence, including sexualized violence, lateral-violence and bullying in the organization." 

Bill said she sees the resolution as "a chance for the AFN to show that it's a leader in the fight against organizational discrimination."

She said First Nations organizations and communities aren't immune to issues like bullying, discrimination and harassment that exist in the broader public and that there have been incidents and issues that have shown up within the AFN. 

Last year Morley Googoo was removed from his role as AFN regional chief for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland after an AFN internal investigation suggested he'd used his influence, along with death threats and other forms of discrimination, to keep women from contacting police with allegations of sexual assault against him. 

Googoo has denied the allegations that surfaced in the internal investigation report. 

Khelsilem said the investigation being proposed now isn't about going after any specific individuals but about figuring out the scope of challenges within the AFN.

"We don't know because there is not a trusted system of accountability within the organization," he said. 

Khelsilem, Squamish Nation councillor and spokesperson, is the mover of the draft resolution to the AFN. (Thosh Collins)

Bill echoed this point, saying, "we believe it's time to understand what is happening within the AFN."

Bill said she hopes that as First Nations leaders prepare to vote on the resolution that they see it through a lens of making positive change. 

"Today there's many young people that — and you hear it all the time — they feel the organization doesn't properly represent them," she said.

"This issue is part of it. Young people need to see themselves reflected in the organization. Women need to see themselves represented in the organization. The AFN, let's face it, it's dominated by men and always has been."

She said it's also about ensuring everyone has a safe space to fully participate within the organization. 

Nine-month investigative timeline proposed

The resolution calls for a multi-staged investigative review that would examine specific allegations while also looking to identify systemic issues that may emerge with respect to discrimination in the organization. 

Its proposed framework is akin to the recent investigation in B.C. into Indigenous-specific racism in the health-care system.

If the resolution is passed and acted upon, the proposed framework would see three independent investigators take on the review. Investigators would be chosen by the women, youth and elders councils respectively. 

A final report would be expected within nine months and would include recommendations for change.

Khelsilem said he hopes to see broad support for the resolution. 

"Let's update the organization," he said.

"Let's become the platinum standard for First Nations organizations around these issues." 

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde said in an emailed statement that he thinks the resolution is important. 

"I support it and its sponsors, and I hope that the Chiefs-in-Assembly will do the same," he wrote. 

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