The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) executive committee and its national board of directors have voted to suspend National Chief RoseAnne Archibald, effective immediately.
Archibald has been accused of bullying and harassment by four of her own staff members. The claims are now the subject of an external investigation.
"The National Chief was suspended with pay pending the outcome of a current investigation into four complaints against her," the AFN said in a statement on Friday.
This is the first time a national chief has been suspended by the executive committee.
"She will be suspended until the Executive Committee reviews the investigation report and makes a final decision regarding her status," the statement said.
AFN statement regarding the suspension of National Chief RoseAnne Archibald: <a href="https://t.co/O4Kpu9uTQ5">https://t.co/O4Kpu9uTQ5</a>—@AFN_Updates
The AFN said it made the decision because a statement Archibald issued on Thursday — responding to CBC News's reporting about the allegations — "breached her obligations to the AFN," going against its code of conduct, whistleblower policy and her oath of office.
Archibald said in a statement on Thursday that four staff members were seeking contract payouts worth one million dollars and accused the AFN of collusion and corruption.
On Friday, Archibald released another statement calling the allegations against her a "smear campaign." She repeated her calls for a forensic audit and independent inquiry of the AFN's operations dating back eight years.
Archibald challenges decision
In a statement posted to Twitter on Friday, Archibald said she won't back down.
"What is happening is wrong, but it's not about me; it's a manufactured distraction from my repeated calls to investigate the past eight years of wrongdoing within the AFN," she said.
Archibald later posted another statement in which she said she'd been locked out of her AFN email at 7:30 p.m. and that she'd found out about the suspension through media reporting.
She challenged the legitimacy of the decision to suspend her as national chief.
"While the regional chiefs have the authority to suspend me from the board and as board chair, they do not have the authority to remove me as the AFN National Chief," Archibald said in the statement.
"As National Chief, I'll continue to press for a forensic audit and full impartial investigation into the AFN and I'll continue to release truthful information in the coming days.... Sunlight is the best disinfectant."
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AFNForensicAuditNow?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AFNForensicAuditNow</a> <a href="https://t.co/I6IC12jCcX">pic.twitter.com/I6IC12jCcX</a>—@ChiefRoseAnne
The AFN confirmed on Thursday it had received a number of complaints about Archibald last month and determined that the findings supported further inquiry by an external investigator.
Regional Chief Paul Prosper, an AFN spokesperson, said the organization felt it had no choice but to suspend Archibald.
"It is regrettable that we had to take this severe action, but we had no other choice," Prosper said in the organization's statement on Friday.
'This wasn't an easy decision'
"The National Chief has committed serious breaches of her obligations to the AFN through unfounded and unsubstantiated public attacks on the integrity of our organization and our employees that will only serve to undermine the good work we do as we continue to serve our First Nations communities."
In an interview with CBC News on Friday, Prosper said Archibald's statements are not in the best interest of the AFN, and that she needs to respect the privacy of complainants and the confidentiality of the investigation.
He said the meeting at which the decision was made to suspend Archibald lasted five or six hours.
"This wasn't an easy decision, I'll freely admit that," Prosper said. "I can tell you there was strong support for the motion."
He added: "This is difficult, but we'll get through this."
Prosper said the executive committee did not pick an interim national chief and that the organization's leadership will be decided at a later date.
Toxic workplace alleged in complaints
The four staff members who made the complaints are on paid leave. AFN has hired an outside firm to conduct the investigation.
Among the complaints are that Archibald allegedly introduced a new practice at weekly meetings, a Hawaiian tradition called ho'oponopono, which includes having staff recount traumas as a form of healing.
Sources told CBC News that some staff complained the practice had re-traumatized them.
Archibald's legal counsel, Aaron Detlor, said he wasn't aware of Archibald practising ho'oponopono, including her asking staff to share their traumas.
Sources also told CBC News that the AFN became a toxic workplace shortly after Archibald took charge.
Archibald alleges that the four filed complaints against her after they tried to secure $1 million in contract payouts.
The complaints were made as part of an AFN whistleblower policy, which was created after Archibald became national chief last year in response to bullying and harassment allegations from her time as Ontario regional chief.
With files from Olivia Stefanovich