AFN chief cites reconciliation, climate change and economic growth among election priorities
RoseAnne Archibald says flags should remain at half-mast to honour Indigenous children
Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald unveiled her organization's top five requests for federal leaders in this election, putting a commitment from whoever wins to continue on the path of truth and reconciliation at the top of her list.
Archibald also said that the Conservatives' approach to Indigenous issues in this election is an improvement on what has been offered by the party in previous elections. But she disagreed with leader Erin O'Toole, who said it is time to raise flags that had been lowered in honour of unmarked graves identified at a number of residential schools.
"I read somewhere that if we kept the flags half-mast every day for every child that we have discovered so far that the flag would remain at half-mast for something like 11 to 17 years," she said.
"I think that the longer that the flags remain at half-mast really honours these children, honours these little ones, honours our little ones, honours our families, honours our communities."
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Archibald said the AFN's top priorities fall under a theme called the "healing path forward" and put the focus on five key issues including: truth and reconciliation, climate change, economic growth, respecting First Nations' jurisdiction and rebuilding and strengthening First Nations in Canada.
"The theme, the healing path forward, speaks for the need for a strategic direction toward evolutionary and positive change. There is a healing path forward, and we can get there by working together," she said.
On the issue of pursuing truth and reconciliation, Archibald said federal leaders need to endorse the creation of a national Indigenous healing organization and fund it properly, fully implement all calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation report and provide resources to the investigation of unmarked graves at residential school sites.
Support for the ongoing search for unmarked graves remains a top issue with Indigenous Canadians.
Ed Bitternose, a residential school survivor from George Gordon First Nation, told CBC News he has not seen enough from any of the parties on the subject.
"I would like to hear from the government or politicians about what's going on in First Nations in terms of the little bodies or the bodies that are found in school sites, that there be more partnership with their departments and that they talk about supplying funds or tools," he said.
Climate change and economic growth
On climate change, the AFN wants First Nations included in policy discussions that affect land and water issues, support for the creation of Indigenous conservation areas and backing to create and implement Indigenous environmental regulations.
Archibald also said that the AFN will be pushing back against any government that tries to reduce the role and impact of Indigenous voices when it comes to the environmental assessment of natural resource projects.
WATCH: What would the Assembly of First Nations like to see from federal party leaders?
To further economic growth for Indigenous people, the AFN says it wants a post-pandemic recovery plan that will help First Nations become financially self-sufficient. The AFN also said that it wants First Nations to be given jurisdiction over the production and sale of cannabis and for all regulatory hurdles removed.
The AFN also says it wants all self-government agreements to be fully implemented and for Indigenous jurisdiction and sovereignty to be fully respected across the country.
Archibald said that she would not endorse any party in the Sept. 20 vote because she has to remain independent in order to work with whichever party goes on to form government.
"What I do want to say is that there are many Indigenous people running across Canada, and I do want to wish all of the Indigenous, First Nation candidates the absolute best in this election in their run … for any party no matter who they are," she said.
The AFN national chief also said that while her organization is still committed to working to get the Vatican to offer a formal apology for its role in the running of residential schools, she would not, as AFN chief, go to the Vatican to request that apology.
"The process of inviting him, I would say we're still working on that, but we've been very public that we want the pope here in Canada to offer that apology on Canadian soil," she said.