Chiefs’ resistance to change stalls new path for AFN

Monday, April 10th, 2023 9:37am


Image Caption

National Chief RoseAnne Archibald


“We can no longer have this top down, one-size fits-all approach. The Healing Path Forward Accord will be community driven, up to the region, up to the national level.” — National Chief RoseAnne Archibald
By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

National Chief RoseAnne Archibald has given chiefs another few months to get on board with the next steps for her proposed Healing Path Forward Accord.

The accord was adopted at last July’s Assembly of First Nations (AFN) annual general assembly in a resolution entitled “A renewed framework providing strategic direction and action toward evolutionary and positive change.”

This spring’s assembly, held April 4 to April 6, was to give the go-ahead to establish a chiefs’ committee on nation-building.

However, no resolution was put forward for the committee’s establishment because of chiefs’ “resistance to change”, said Archibald in an address April 6, the final day of the special assembly held in Ottawa.

“Even positive change, even positive transformational change, will be met with drawbacks and discomfort. But, nonetheless, we have to be relentless,” said Archibald.

The Healing Path Forward Accord proposes a new approach to the Permanent Bilateral Mechanism (PBM) memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the AFN and the federal government. Signed in 2017, the main purpose of the PBM is to advance joint priorities between the AFN and Canada.

The Healing Path Forward Accord would see the chiefs’ committee on nation-building chart a path forward in implementing treaty and inherent rights, which would be driven by rights holders.

According to Archibald, there had been low engagement and feedback on the accord, despite the national chief’s office undertaking its own initiative to facilitate preliminary discussions on it.

Archibald said she had received a letter midway through the chiefs’ assembly from the Ontario region saying their engagement sessions with their communities were only just beginning and would run through until July 28. 

She pointed out that work on the Healing Path Forward process began in October 2021. It was brought to the AFN executive retreat in March 2022 before passing as a resolution at last year’s AGA.

Archibald said input was still welcome.

Although last week’s draft resolution didn’t make it to the assembly floor, it had been circulated among a number of regional caucuses.

The Healing Path Forward Accord would see focus shift from the “domestication” of First Nations sovereignty to talking about international sovereignty, said Archibald, with the new chiefs’ committee working on a coordinated national approach to replace the colonial federal policies imposed on First Nations.

The new approach is needed, according to the July 2022 resolution, because the processes engaged through the PBM MOU are “not working effectively…(resulting) in the AFN experiencing challenges and setbacks when working to advance identified priorities…”

“Moving from this current comfortable structure to updating the PMB MOU can incite a little bit of fear. And at the same time, we must have the courage to be the agents of change,” said Archibald.

She said the process was important because it was grassroots driven.

“We can no longer have this top down, one-size fits-all approach. The Healing Path Forward Accord will be community driven, up to the region, up to the national level,” she said.

Archibald also explained that “respected and outspoken” policy analyst Russ Diabo had joined her office late last year “to do some work that creates space for diversity of views that are not always represented on the floor at the AFN.”

To that end, Diabo’s first task was a discussion paper entitled Sovereignty, self-determination, and land back: A path forward for implementing our treaty and inherent rights, which was sent to chiefs, councils and communities in March.

Diabo presented highlights of that paper at the chiefs assembly, stressing the need for First Nations to operate in an international field: for all levels of government to recognize and respect First Nations Aboriginal title, inherent rights, all treaties and the right of self-determination in accordance with international law; and the creation of a new policy to be presented at a First Ministers’ meeting which recognizes and affirms Aboriginal title, inherent rights, all treaties and the international right of self-determination.

A third key objective focused on First Nations people obtaining benefits from restoration of, or restitution for, their lands, territories and resources, which were “confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.”

Archibald said the goal is to present and pass the resolution for the nation-building committee in July at the AFN’s annual general assembly in Halifax.

“Rather than having us react to the government’s agenda, you will drive this process. And that’s why that draft Healing Path Forward Accord was established and written and why it’s very much needed,” said Archibald.

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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.