AFN Special Chiefs Assembly and AFN National Chief Election
First Nation leaders from across the country gathered for the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly (SCA) and National Chief Election in Winnipeg from December 9-11, 2014. The Assembly drew almost 2,000 First Nation leaders, Elders, technicians, community members and observers for dialogue and strategy on key issues.
On Wednesday, December 10, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde was elected as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations on the first ballot with 63% of the vote. National Chief Bellegarde will serve a three-and-a-half year term as mandated by resolution 02-2014 from Chiefs-in-Assembly at the 2014 Annual General Assembly.
National Chief Bellegarde announced his top priority as given to him by First Nations across the country, that Canada must respect our rights as peoples and our Inherent Right to self-determination. It will require new approaches and dialogue truly founded in a commitment to recognize and respect our inherent jurisdiction, Aboriginal rights and title, and the sacred Treaty relationships between First Nations and the Crown.
Together, Chiefs-in-Assembly passed a total of 17 resolutions on a number of priority areas for action, including, but not limited to, funding for First Nations education, support for families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, a Non-Insured Health Benefits Action Plan, Indian Residential Schools Personal Education Credit Program, prescription drug abuse crisis, Specific Claims Tribunal Act, Treaty Right to housing, natural resources, support for the Tsilhqot’in Nation Judgment. All resolutions are available at www.afn.ca. The purpose of this Bulletin is to provide an update on the discussion and direction on the main SCA agenda items.
Task Group on Nation-Building & AFN Restructuring
Chiefs-in-Assembly received an update from the Task Group on Nation-Building and AFN Restructuring, which launched in 2013 to examine AFN, processes and structure to ensure it supports Nation building efforts and can evolve according to the direction of First Nations. The Task Group identified short, medium and long-term areas of focus and key questions relating to the role of the AFN, National Chief, Executive and Secretariat; how voting is conducting and mandates expressed by Chiefs; how First Nation citizens are involved and participation in decision-making as Nations. The Task Group also recommended that a Chiefs Committee on Nation Building and AFN Restructuring be formed to conduct a review of AFN Charter, drawing on previous experience of leaders and the AFN Renewal Commission, and engage directly with First Nations, regional and Treaty organizations and with citizens to develop recommendations for change.
More information and short dialogue and discussion papers on this work can be found at www.afn.ca.
First Nations Control of First Nations Education
AFN Resolution 35/2014 “Federal Act for Funding First Nations Education” was passed by Chiefs-in-Assembly. This resolution supports the joint creation of a federal bill that outlines the federal government’s responsibilities to fund First Nations Education. The resolution speaks only to funding and is not in any way related to Bill C-33 and is clear that work under the resolution is contingent on the federal government withdrawing Bill C-33. The resolution speaks to an inclusive and transparent process to develop the legislation and accompanying regulations such that First Nation regions are involved throughout the process. Under the resolution, any draft legislation resulting from this work must first be reviewed and ratified by Chiefs-in-Assembly before it proceeds. The resolution also demands that Canada honour its constitutional obligation to the Treaty right to education.
The establishment of a legislative framework for funding First Nation Education is the only way to systematically ensure all First Nation communities benefit from access to quality, culturally appropriate education, not just those with the capacity to negotiate with the federal government.
Planning for a National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and the Call for a National Inquiry
One month after a brutal assault along the Assiniboine River in Winnipeg, 16-year-old Rinelle Harper was honoured by Chiefs and delegates on Tuesday December 9. Red Bear drum group sang an honour song and Rinelle Harper received an eagle feather by Manitoba Regional Chief Bill Traverse on behalf of AFN. Ms. Harper stood with her parents and sister to address the Chiefs and delegates and pleaded for love, kindness, respect and forgiveness. She added her soft but strong voice to the call for a National Public Commission of Inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. It was a touching and powerful moment followed by a standing ovation from the Assembly.
Chiefs and delegates participated in a strategy and planning session Wednesday December 10 on the upcoming National Roundtable on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls currently expected to take place in February 2015. Discussions built on the decisions and work to date to end violence against Indigenous women and girls, including three prior resolutions calling for a National Public Commission of Inquiry and the development of a national framework to end violence. Two resolutions were passed at the SCA in this area: 35/2014 “Support for Families First” and 36/2014 “Engagement and Representation on National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” that reinforce AFN’s mandate to engage in an inclusive fashion and ensure community-based efforts and voices are heard in all work going forward.
Working Group on Natural Resource Development
The Working Group on Natural Resources Development (Working Group) was launched in December 2013 to start a national conversation to examine ways to ensure that First Nations have the opportunity to participate and share, where interested, in the full range of benefits resulting from natural resource development. The Working Group update focused on two sessions held in November 2014 and work towards a first summary report. The Working Group identified four emerging themes in discussions to date: governance, environment, prosperity and finance.
Chiefs-in-Assembly passed resolution 38-2014 calling on the National Chief to support and assist in communicating the urgency of First Nations full involvement in the economy and resource sector. The resolution also supports continued efforts by the Working Group to report on natural resources development, coordinate a meeting with other levels of government and jurisdictions, and to establish a communications plan to ensure First Nations, the Government of Canada, industry, and international communities of interest are aware of the Working Group’s findings. Chiefs-in-Assembly also underscored the need for recognition of jurisdiction, Treaties, the need for market involvement, a focus on strategic topics, involvement of trade matters in this discussion, and to move on this as a priority area. The Working Group has reported to Chiefs in Assembly in July 2014, December 2014, and will continue to report to First Nations on its work.
Non-Insured Health Benefits
The Chiefs-in-Assembly approved the AFN Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) Action Plan as a living document and directed the AFN Chiefs Committee on Health (CCOH), the AFN National First Nations Health Technicians Network (NFNHTN) and AFN Staff to work on actions identified in the Action Plan. The CCOH and NFNHTN are meeting next in January 2015.
As part of the NIHB Action Plan, the AFN has been working diligently on the Joint NIHB Review which is a collaboration between the AFN and the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) at Health Canada. The first meeting of the Joint NIHB Review Committee took place in October 2014. The next meeting is scheduled for January 2015.
The NIHB Action Plan as well as updates on all health policy areas are posted on the AFN website at: http://health.afn.ca/en
Specific Claims Review
The Chiefs-in-Assembly passed resolution 40-2014 affirming the significance of the 5-year review of the Specific Claims Tribunal Act and related processes. First Nations are critically concerned about the current specific claims process, including the state of funding for claimants, as well as threats to the independence and viability of the Tribunal. The Chiefs Committee on Claims (CCoC) has been tasked to engage in the review, and to ensure that any First Nations that wish to do so, have the opportunity to contribute their views on the current state of federal claims processing. The CCoC is working to finalize an engagement process and is expected to convene a meeting of leaders and experts to contribute to the review. More information will be provided to First Nations as this work proceeds.
The Assembly of First Nations thanks all those who took time away from their families and communities to participate in the Special Chiefs Assembly and make it such a success. We wish everyone all the best over the holiday season. Please enjoy your time with family, friends and community.