You know it’s going to be a really, really bad day when someone steps up to the microphone in a public meeting and begins shouting at you. Your behaviour is described as disgusting. Verbal abuse is heaped on you in liberal doses. The day gets even worse when you are the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and the chiefs who elected you less than a year ago are damned mad.

The unexpected attack on Phil Fontaine came at an AFN meeting in Saskatoon May 20. The delegate’s name was Dave General, a proxy representing the lower Similkameem in B.C. General was upset over a misplaced apology. From Fontaine. To federal Indian Affairs Minister Andrew Mitchell…

General said the chiefs gave Fontaine direction in the form of resolutions and mandates. Fontaine turned around and apologized to Minister Mitchell for enforcing those resolutions. He reportedly said it was unfortunate he had to do what the chiefs wanted him to do.

This statement has given ample ammunition to the people who have been saying Fontaine is too cozy with the feds. His latest actions have created controversy and give new meaning to Fontaine’s mantra of non-confrontation – more a mantra of bended knee as far as I could see. Dave General went as far as to say he didn’t appreciate the way Fontaine was groveling to the Minister. The Minister was present at the AFN meeting at the time of the General’s outburst.

One person said that General went too far with his verbal abuse and this disrespected the position of the National Chief. B.C. Elder Herbert Morvan said that he apologized for the words his colleague from B.C. used to describe Fontaine. A lot of B.C. delegates stood in support of the Elder’s words. On the other side it was felt that Fontaine disrespected the chiefs by apologizing for carrying out their directions. Most telling, however, was that not one person defended or supported Fontaine’s public apology.

One of the AFN Regional Chiefs observed that Fontaine has gone back on one of his key campaign promises. “Fontaine talked about unity,” he said to the Nation. “Was this unity?”

One chief admitted he voted for Fontaine, but is now reconsidering his support.

Chief Harold Sault of the Lake Helen First Nation said he agreed with the delegate but might have phrased his wording a little differently. He was visibly and verbally upset with the National Grand Chief and said so in the meeting, adding that he supported and understood Dave General’s anger.

The AFN should be telling the stories of Aboriginal Peoples across Canada. It should be a strong lobby for Aboriginal rights, not a place where the National Grand Chief apologizes to the federal government for trying to protect Aboriginal rights and carrying out the directions and mandates of the chiefs that make up the AFN.

In any case Fontaine has to start mending fences if he wishes to rebuild credibility with the chiefs and bands across Canada.