The New Year holds the promise of opportunity for real change. I can assure you that your organization, the Assembly of First Nations, will be relentless in our pursuit of justice and fairness for our all our people. We will return to our original relations and come together as nations to set a path forward. We will be focused and strategic to achieve results. This is about our rights and the future of our children.
AFN 2013 Special Chiefs Assembly
The Assembly of First Nations held its 2013 Special Chiefs Assembly from December 10-12, 2013 with preparatory sessions beginning December 9. Over 1,000 delegates and observers gathered in Gatineau, QC and reaffirmed a direction forward based on plans and priorities set by First Nations.
As most of you know, I was not at the Special Chiefs Assembly as I was invited to attend the memorial services for Madiba Nelson Mandela in South Africa as a representative of First Nations in Canada. While this was a difficult decision given the timing, as many of you encouraged and then as the National Executive resolved and directed, it was important for us to directly participate in the honouring of Madiba on behalf of Indigenous peoples in Canada. I want to thank all of the Regional Chiefs, the women’s, elders and youth councils for their direction and support to be in Johannesburg for the services. I was able to perform a traditional Nuu-chah-nulth ceremony for Madiba as part of the services and did so, respectfully and humbly, on behalf of all Indigenous peoples in Canada.
This year’s theme for our Assembly – “Drawing Strength from Within – Coming Together as Nations for Change” – resonated deeply as we reflected on the passing of Madiba and the need for reconciliation in Canada and recognition and respect for our rights, title and Treaties.
I want to thank the AFN Executive led the discussions and worked hard to make this meeting a success. Chiefs-in-Assembly unanimously reaffirmed the assertion of First Nation inherent rights, title, Treaties and jurisdiction as the way forward to take control of all activities that affect our lives, our lands and our citizens. This included our leaders unanimously standing in support of First Nations control of First Nations education and the 2010 policy framework of the same name as our direction forward. First Nations do not support the current federal proposal for a bill and any approach on First Nations education must be consistent with our plan. First Nations leaders also re-affirmed that Treaty implementation must be carried out by the citizens and by Treaty holders on a Treaty-by-Treaty basis as is our direction.
Overall, the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly was an opportunity for dialogue, reflection and strategizing on how to support First Nations as they fulfil their responsibilities to their citizens and reach for their aspirations as Nations. First Nations engaged in ceremony. We honoured leaders who have left us. We heard from our youth and Elders. Through dialogue and strategy we addressed priority areas like Comprehensive Claims Reform, Treaty Implementation, First Nations Control of First Nations Education, “Towards a First Nations Energy Strategy”, “Supporting Safety and Security for our People and Communities”, Indian Residential Schools, Youth Engagement, Health and International Priorities. Resolutions discussed at the 2013 Special Chiefs Assembly are now being signed and will be made publicly available on the AFN website in the very near future. All resolutions that were not discussed by Chiefs will be reviewed by the AFN Executive at their next meeting and then posted on the AFN website. I thank all of you who attended for dedicating your time and energy to be with us for these important deliberations.
Update on Education
On Friday, December 13, 2013, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Minister Bernard Valcourt wrote an Open Letter on First Nations education to me and all First Nations in response to the AFN’s Open Letter setting out our concerns on the federal proposal and our requirements and conditions for any approach on First Nations education.
In his letter, the Minister states his objective to engage with First Nations in an open dialogue that would reflect the requirements set out in our national resolution. Education remains a top priority and we will not rest before achieving success on our terms. We encourage all to reflect on the national resolution and this letter and to bring forward your views.
Our position is clear and reaffirmed by unanimous resolution at our Special Chiefs Assembly. First Nations oppose the current federal proposal and are calling for negotiation founded on the principle of First Nations control of First Nations education that values our languages and cultures and is supported by stable, sustainable and fair funding.
The Minister’s letter can be found on his website at:
Taking Action to Address Crisis in Non-Insured Health Benefits Program
The Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program requires an immediate and fundamental transformation. The gap between First Nations and non-First Nations health outcomes continues to widen as First Nations do not have access to quality and equitable health products and services. NIHB is guided by the principle of “cost containment” rather than improving health outcomes. This is about nothing less than the well-being of our children and families.
At the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly, leadership spoke strongly about taking action to advocate and mobilize First Nations for change.
AFN Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy, the Portfolio Holder for Health and Chair of the Chiefs Committee on Health, will oversee a campaign over the next several months to raise the profile of the NIHB file with policy-makers, politicians, mainstream Canadians, the media and other allied health organizations. The objective is to not only identify the problems but to create solutions.
The AFN aims to increase political pressure to achieve real change in the NIHB program through engagement and action at both the national and regional levels. Regional Roundtables will be hosted by regional First Nations organizations (with support from the AFN) between January and the end of February, 2014. The goal is to hear regional input about the challenges and to obtain regionally inclusive solutions and options on the solutions. Following the Regional Roundtables, the AFN will host a two day National Policy Forum on NIHB in March 2014 in Ottawa. Input and solutions derived from the 10 regional roundtables will feed into a policy position document and concrete action plan that can be used by communities, regions, leadership and others to take action on addressing the disparities associated with NIHB.
This action plan is to include a legislative/legal strategy and a communications strategy and will explore partnerships with national associations and organizations to generate increased political pressure to move the plan forward. Steps to develop these key partnerships have already begun.
The AFN encourages Chiefs and First Nations citizens to become politically engaged on improving health outcomes and Non-Insured Health Benefits. Together, we will ensure that Canada fulfills its moral, legal and Treaty obligations to First Nations health. Watch for more details on the upcoming Regional Roundtables and National Forum on NIHB.
Being in South Africa for memorial services for Madiba was truly an incredible moment of history for Indigenous leadership and for all peoples around the globe. He showed us that both courage and compassion define true leadership. Madiba showed the world that reconciliation is not only possible but essential. His words inspire and guide us now as we tackle the complex challenges before us “it always seems impossible until it’s done.” Thanks to Madiba’s incredible legacy, our resolve is strengthened and our vision of a better day for our children is made more clear.
Please accept my sincere wishes for a wonderful holiday season with your families filled with love, joy and hope. I look forward to seeing you all early in 2014 !!