It could be that the strength of our Aboriginal voice recently got a lot stronger with a signing of the joint protocol agreement between the Assembly First Nations, in Canada, and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), from the United States of America. This historical agreement was signed July 23 in Vancouver by Grand Chief Phil Fontaine of the AFN and President Ron Allan of the NCAI. This conference, “Uniting First Nations – Tecumseh’s Vision,” was the first major meeting the First Nation people from Canada and the U.S. in 60 years.

This historic event was part of the AFN 20th annual general assembly and featured a trade show and business conference. More than 3,000 delegates attended from all over the world, including China, Taiwan, Mexico, South Africa, New Zealand, Guatemala, the United Nations, the Organization of America States, the United States and Canada.

The agreement is called the “Declaration of kinship and cooperation among the indigenous peoples and nations of North America through the Assembly of First Nations and the National Congress of American Indians.”

As a First Nation person, my first thought was how does this historic agreement relate to me at the local level? So I’d picked up
the phone and called my friend, Shawn Batise, executive director of Wabun Tribal Council in Timmins, Ontario, who attended the conference. Shawn was accompanied on his trip to Vancouver with three of Wabun’s chiefs – Chief Paul McKenzie of Wahgoshig First Nation, Chief Eleanor Hendrix of Matachewan First Nation and Chief Joyce Luke of Mattagami First Nation.

John explained that this agreement is more of a political accord which makes it easier for First Nations organizations in Canada to work with those in the U.S. He see this as an opportunity for First Nation people in North America to have a stronger voice in Canada and the U.S. – two of the world’s most prominent countries – and also globally.

Shawn compared the idea of the AFN and the NCAI banding together to how the six Wabun communities grouped together to form the Wabun Tribal Council. As a Tribal Council, these First Nation communities have a stronger voice and are represented the best way possible when it comes to dealing with government. He believes that in coming together First Nations people in Canada, the United States and globally will have a stronger voice with government and the United Nations. He still has concerns regarding the positive impact from this agreement at local levels, but he feels this accord is a progressive move.

I believe that Shawn and our First Nation leadership are right in their support of this historic accord. If you want anything done these days it helps to have a lot of support and to be able to bring clout to the bargaining table. This accord is a move in the direction.