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Renewal Commission By Russell Diabo August 20, 2004 Phil Fontaine included as part of his election platform “making AFN relevant”. Fontaine announced the establishment of the AFN Renewal Commission in December 2003. There were requests put to regions for nominations as “Commissioners”. But in the end there was no Resolution from the Chiefs-in-Assembly, the AFN Confederacy, or the even the AFN Executive Committee authorizing the mandate of the AFN Renewal Commission. This is a breach of at least the following Articles of the AFN Charter: PRINCIPLES ARTICLE 2 First Nations, in the pursuit of the ideals stated in Article 1, shall subscribe to and maintain these Principles: 1. First Nations involved in diplomatic and political relations within the Assembly of First Nations recognize that collective political power and action is a practical imperative for the preservation and integrity of the right of self-determination for each First Nation. 2. In order to achieve political solidarity, diplomatic and political relations between First Nations involved in the Assembly of First Nations shall be characterized by the principles of coexistence and diversity. 3. The purpose, authority, responsibilities and jurisdiction of the Assembly of First Nations shall be derivative in nature and scope. All actions or initiatives in excess of the delegation from First Nations shall be null and void and of no force or effect. 4. All delegated power, mandates or responsibility derive from the sovereignty of First Nations; and the persons or institutions entrusted to exercise such delegation have a sacred trust and duty, in performance, to comply strictly with the nature and quality of the delegation. 5. The Assembly of First Nations shall remain at all times an instrument to advance the aspirations of First Nations and shall not become greater in strength, power, resources or jurisdiction than the First Nations for which it was established to serve. 6. Any decision or direction on a subject matter of a fundamental nature that may affect the jurisdiction, rights and survival of First Nations, may be undertaken as a national or
international matter provided the First Nations-in-Assembly have reached a consensus to grant delegated power, mandate or responsibility to the Assembly of First Nations. When all efforts at achieving a consensus have. been exhausted without a success, a positive vote of 60% of the Chiefs and other designated representatives of First Nations shall be sufficient for the Assembly of First Nations to undertake any subject matter of a national or international matter. 7. The resources allocated to the Assembly of First Nations Secretariat shall be distributed and utilized for the great benefit of all Member First Nations in efforts that are truly in form and substance national in scope and for which consensus has been achieved by the member First Nations. ROLE AND FUNCTION ARTICLE 3 The role and function of the Assembly of First Nations is: a) To be a national delegated forum for determining and harmonising effective collective and co-operative measures on any subject matters which the First Nations delegate for review, study, response or action. b) To be a national delegated forum of First Nations which, by virtue of their sovereignty, are the sole legitimate source for what it is, does or may become in the future. c) To be a national delegated forum for the purpose of advancing the aspirations of First Nations and to remain subordinate in strength power and resources to the First Nations jurisdiction for which it is established to serve. d) To perform and adhere strictly, as a sacred trust and duty, to the nature, scope and extent of the delegation granted from time to time by First Nations. e) To seek, utilize and distribute resources for the greater benefit of all First Nations in endeavours that are truly in form and substance national or international in nature and scope and for which delegation has been granted by First Nations. MEMBERSHIP ARTICLE 4 All First Nations in Canada have the right to be Members of the Assembly of First Nations. Section 8 of the AFN Renewal Commission’s Terms-of-Reference, which hasn’t been duly authorized or approved by a valid Resolution from any of AFN Chartered bodies (Assembly,
Confederacy, Executive), asserts that “any amendments to these terms of reference must be approved by all AFNRC Commissioners”. Despite the assertion that the AFN Renewal Commission is an “arms length body that will operate in a truly transparent, open and accountable process”, the appointment of the AFN Renewal Commission Co-Chairs, seems arbitrary and are probably based upon political debts owed by Fontaine to the First Nations Summit, and to Joe Miskokomon for Joe’s assistance in Fontaine’s election campaign. I believe Miskokomon was also on Fontaine’s transition team. The other Commissioners also appear to be from groups/regions where Fontaine was supported in his candidacy as National Chief. In any case, as was evident at the AFN-AGA in Charlottetown, there are Chiefs in different regions (Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec) who feel that they weren’t adequately consulted on the appointments of the Renewal Commissioners. Some of the Commissioners are from regions where Fontaine didn’t have a lot of support, so individuals were named from Women’s, Off-Reserve groups, as an attempt to broaden the composition of the Renewal Commission to include these groups, the individuals were probably chosen because of their support for Fontaine, although admittedly it is difficult to prove this. In addition to the deficiencies of the nomination process, and any political bias the AFN Renewal Commissioners may have in favour of the incumbent National Chief, the “arms length” notion is negated by section 3 d) of the Terms-of-Reference, which provides that the Renewal Commission will “provide recommendations to the AFN Executive on specific issues that can be implemented without changes to the governing instruments of AFN and NIB”. Again, the Renewal Commission should be have been duly authorized by the Chiefsin-Assembly and reporting back with recommendation about interim changes to the Chiefs directly, not the AFN Executive, after all, it is a Chiefs’ organization. This is another breach of the AFN Charter articles cited above. At this point AFN is just one of a number of “national institutions” that the federal government is using to advance their assimilationist-termination policy objectives. The AFN Renewal Commission received about $1.5 million from the federal government without have a valid resolution from any of the AFN Charter bodies. The Martin Liberal government is using Phil Fontaine, and AFN, as part of their “cooperative collaboration” approach in building “relationships” with First Nations. The “national institutions” on governance and fiscal institutions will continue to be funded outside of any AFN approved mandate. Fontaine is promoting a “national institution” on housing. All of these “national institutions” will also have some impact on local and regional First Nation-Crown political-legal-fiscal relations. The AFN Renewal Commission is to table a report and recommendations by the summer of 2005. This time-frame parallels the federal government’s legislative and budgetary processes.
If a minority government has a projected life of about 18 months, then another federal election may be called in the winter of 2005 or spring of 2006. Given the close relationship between Fontaine and Martin (AFN & Canada), perhaps the Renewal Commission process is just a process to deflect and distract from the real processes of imposing national principles, policies, institutions, standards, and fiscal formulas, largely outside of the AFN structure. As an example, look at the federal post-election Cabinet Committee system, the Aboriginal Affairs Cabinet Committee, doesn’t have the Health Minister as a member. This seems to reinforce the federal assertion that health services are being delivered to “AboriginalCanadians” as a universal social program, not based on aboriginal and/or treaty rights. Even if the “Aboriginal” leadership get to participate in part of the upcoming First Ministers’ Meeting on Health, scheduled for September 2004, the federal structure and policies are being decided as a universal Canadian social program. The “Aboriginal” participation will likely be used symbolically, as Paul Martin has done with the First Nations Cleansing Ceremony at his swearing-in; the Canada-Aboriginal Roundtable, his sitting with a drum group on “Aboriginal Solidarity Day”, his recent northern trip. It appears that Paul Martin is using “Aboriginal” issues to soften his right-wing fiscal conservative image, while there is no evidence so far that he is sincere about significantly addressing the poor social and economic conditions of First Nations. Much of Chrètien’s “Aboriginal Legacy” policies and legislation are being maintained by Paul Martin. Getting back to the AFN Renewal Commission, there are obvious problems with the AFN structure and Charter. Some of the problems are: While the Chiefs-in-Assembly elect the National Chief according to some clear election rules, the same is not true for Regional Vice-Chiefs. There needs to be clear and consistent rules for electing Regional Vice-Chiefs, if the Executive Committee is to be maintained as part of the AFN structure. The BC region is the largest within the AFN structure, yet there is only one Regional Vice-Chief, while the smaller Northern (NWT & Yukon) and Atlantic (New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland) regions have more than one Regional Vice-Chief. If the Executive Committee is maintained as part of the AFN structure, then the composition and division of regions should be part of the changes to properly reflect the diversity even within regions. The AFN Executive Committee’s mandate should be reviewed and the AFN Charter changed. There have been numerous problems with the Executive Committee negotiating and making agreements with the federal government without approval from the community Chiefs.
The MKO from the Manitoba region has proposed the elimination of the AFN Confederacy from the AFN structure and hold four Assemblies each year. If this is done, what role, if any, will Tribal councils and PTO’s play in AFN structure? The problems with Quorum at the Chiefs-in-Assembly meetings, could be resolved by changing the Charter to allow the Chiefs, or their delegates, to be able to vote on motions and resolutions with just a simple majority of those present in the meeting. These are just a few issues, I’m sure anyone of you can think of more. The real question is, how relevant is AFN when there are fundamental differences between and among first Nations on sovereignty versus assimilation, or more bluntly, rights versus jobs and government programs. A number of First Nations have already altered their constitutional status through “modern” agreements with Canada and other governments. The “relationships” are different, perhaps there should be different categories of membership within AFN, depending on the types of agreements that a “First Nation” group has signed with the federal and/or provincial/territorial governments. In conclusion, the report and recommendations of the AFN Renewal Commission on the role and structure of AFN, will likely be along the lines of what the federal government will approve of and agree to fund. This likely means that the “fix is in” and the results of the process will fit with federal policy, programs and fiscal objectives. This hasn’t been helpful in the past for First Nations who are pursuing a “rights-based” agenda.
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