The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has been an institution since 1969, having the original goal of correcting past injustices and enhancing the rightful position of the First Nations Peoples in Canada’s future after years of being excluded from the political process. But the AFN is not the first organization of its kind, there were previous attempts to achieve a national presence in spite of the 1927 Indian Act that forbade First Nations people from forming political groups and engaging in any political activity.
The first to try was the League of Indians in Canada after World War I, but they faced too many suppressive government actions. Then after WWII the North American Indian Brotherhood came into being and met with the same suppressive tactics coupled with internal factions. Then in 1961, the National Indian Council was formed as a national lobby group, but excluded the Innu from membership. Since then, the First Nations of Canada have had a national lobby group in Ottawa. The purpose of the National Indian Council was to promote “unity among all Indian people.” But that unity was hard to find as each group wanted different things.
The group split amicably in 1968, with Status and Treaty Natives forming the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB).
Immediately they were put to the test by the Liberal governments’ 1969 White Paper policy, which called for the assimilation of all First Nations peoples into the mainstream of Canadian society and the removal of First Nations from the Canadian Constitution. It was a policy that the NIB successfully defeated through lobbying on Parliament Hill and the general public.
In 1982, the NIB underwent a structural change and a name change to reflect the commitment and accountability to the community members. It went from being an “organization of representatives from regions,” to an “organization of First Nations government leaders” under the name the Assembly of First Nations. The new structure allowed leaders to formulate and administer policies of the AFN through their position as a Chief in the First Nations-in-Assembly.
The AFN has become a powerful and articulate lobby group for Aboriginal rights in Canada. It is the national representative organization of the over 630 First Nations communities in Canada.