Next year the AFN will be celebrating its 20th anniversary, so it’s only understandable that the organization would be looking at itself in a serious way. They’ve created the much-needed AFN Renewal Commission. National Chief Phil Fontaine says he wants input from the grassroots First Nations peoples wherever they may be in Canada. The AFN wants to know what you think of the organization that claims to represent First Nations to the federal government.
The self-examination is certainly needed as the organization has faced challenges to its mandates in past years. Present National Chief Fontaine was defeated two terms ago for being too cozy with the feds. He even had Indian Affairs employees working out of the AFN offices in Ottawa.
This was too much for many chiefs, who then supported Matthew Coon Come as national chief. Coon Come was seen as a tough leader who wouldn’t bend over for Ottawa. On a trip to South Africa, though, Coon Come accused the Canadian government of genocide against First Nations peoples. Canada’s reaction was quick, forceful and insightful. In a move that showed the real lack of power of the AFN lobby, Ottawa retaliated by unilaterally cutting the AFN budget in half.
It wouldn’t be until Fontaine grabbed the reins of power back from Coon Come that the budget would be restored to former levels. This in itself is instructive on how a lobby group can be co-opted by colonial practices.
There have been numerous other problems with the AFN, such as who does it really represent? Is it just the chiefs who make up the membership and elect the National Chief or does it really speak for all First Nations peoples? Would this Renewal Commission change that and make it possible for all First Nations (on and off reserve) persons to vote on who should be our representative?
If it represents all the First Nations peoples then how do they have input? This Renewal Commission could be one of those ways to make it happen.
Indeed, the Commission says it will be asking:
1. What can the AFN do to improve its representation and dynamism of First Nations and their citizens?
2. What can the AFN do to become more supportive of Urban First Nation citizens, groups and associations?
3. What can the AFN do to broaden its role to include all First Nation demographics?
4. What should the AFN keep, change, avoid, and create?
The 10 commissioners in charge of answering these questions are Wendy Grant-John (Co-Chair), RK (joe) Miskokomon (Co-Chair), Mary Louise Bernard, Henry Delorme, Ginger Gosnell, Marion Ironquill Meadmore, Francois Paulette, Michèle Rouleau, Gregg Smith, Sylvia Maracle and Neil Sterritt. Their stated mandate is to seek input from First Nations citizens (on- and off-reserve and in urban and rural areas) on the AFN and its current structure, as well as their thoughts and views on a national organization that represents all First Nations.
In Quebec, hearings will be held in Sept-Iles (Sept. 28), Val-d’Or (Oct. 20); and Montreal (Nov. 10-11 ). For those who can’t make it to the hearings you can go online and fill out a questionnaire at www.afn.ca/com-mission.htm.
The Renewal Commission wants as many First Nations peoples to contribute. If you cannot make it to the hearings, they ask you to send in written submissions and/or do the online questionnaire. They say every contribution matters. Make yours.