The Assembly of First Nations held another “election” last month; one that does not represent the voice of the 700,000-plus Native people who call Canada home, which just reminds us that a major change is needed.
The faulty way the AFN is run fails to represent our interests and issues. It is only a (very) small minority of “us” who elect the National Chief – 633 to be exact.
That number reflects the Grand Chief of each reserve across the country, aka the ones who hold the magic voting stick in their hands.
The word “us” is used loosely because our chiefs hardly mirror the average person in our communities. It makes the statement that constituents who elected those same chiefs are not considered smart enough to pick a national chief.
Why are 633 individuals out of hundreds of thousands of people given such an enormous responsibility while the rest of us are left on the sidelines?
In the past, the AFN has paid lip service to “electoral reform”, but what’s actually being done to ensure the voice of the average person does not fall silent these days?
The simple answer is nothing, because it is much easier to conduct an election with a smaller amount of people, not to mention the huge headache of trying to get voters from hundreds of bands to mail in their ballots.
But the easy answer is not always the best one.
If more people were involved, the AFN would have the strength of numbers behind them. The average person would feel like they were being represented, unlike now where most Native people dismiss the AFN as irrelevant.
But even if that happens, the AFN still needs a lot of help in other areas. The first would be accountability.
Who do they answer to if they screw up? Not the people, who have little to no say in the decisions made at the higher levels.
Can the AFN National Chief, in this case newly elected Shawn Atleo, be impeached if he screws up? Can his actions be questioned by anyone but the media? Hardly.
The AFN can be audited, however, and its every move is constantly scrutinized by the Canadian government; right down to the last penny spent.
Aside from the cash, the AFN is also handcuffed when it comes to making a strong statement in favour of Native rights that goes against Ottawa’s wishes.
Does anyone remember what happened when Matthew Coon Come was AFN National Chief from 2000-2003? Then Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault cut the AFN’s budget by $13-million to a meagre $6-million because Coon Come had some heavy opinions on thorny issues Canada likes to keep quiet – Aboriginal ones.
Coon Come didn’t back down on the big issues and now he has just been elected Grand Chief of the Cree Nation. Ottawa can no longer dictate terms to the embattled political veteran and he will now directly serve his own people exclusively.
One solution to attracting leaders like Coon Come, who have a free will and strong mind to fight demeaning Canadian policy towards Aboriginals, could be to form a board of governors that would oversee the AFN and allow for true transparency and accountability.
After all, they say it is “your” AFN, so why do you have such little say in it?
There would have to be a real tight money-making structure that would have bands contributing based on their relative wealth (casinos, oil, etc…).
That way if there is another Crisis in Indian Country the AFN would be better suited and more economically sound to put pressure on Ottawa. The National Chief of the day would not have to worry about a payback in the form of “budget cuts” at the federal level.
If we are truly working towards self-determination and autonomy for all Native Nations, shouldn’t the only organization that claims to represent us all be leading the way?