Communiqué from National Chief Shawn Atleo - July 2011

Communiqué from National Chief Shawn Atleo

JULY 2011

AFN Annual General Assembly - July 12-14, 2011 – Moncton, New Brunswick

The Assembly of First Nations concluded its 32nd Annual General Assembly in Moncton, New Brunswick July 14, 2011.  Over 1300 delegates and observers were welcomed in beautiful Mi’kmaq territory by the Maliseet, Woolastook and Passamaquoddy Nations.  Many hundreds tuned-in to the AGA via webcast and through social media networks like Twitter and Facebook. A total of 38 resolutions were passed and seven will be passed on to the national executive for review.  The resolutions are being finalized and we expect to have them posted on the AFN website within two weeks.

The generosity and hospitality of the entire region was inspiring, particularly the strength in partnerships, including the City and citizens of Moncton.  We came together as nations in the “spirit of peace and friendship” and this theme truly reflected our time there. We want to thank the Host Committee for their excellent work in ensuring a productive and exciting Assembly for everyone.  In addition to the important business and deliberations that took place, the Host Committee organized a number of spectacular cultural and honouring events. Traditionally, when we gathered to do business we often took the time to strengthen the bonds of community and friendship and this was a hallmark of our time in Moncton.  

We took a new approach to the agenda of the Assembly this year, based on direction from First Nations seeking to maximize political dialogue and deliberation and provide an opportunity to engage directly with one another around key issues.  The mornings of Day Two and Three were dedicated to regional caucus sessions followed by strategy sessions on topics like claims and land rights, health and wellness, education, residential schools, supporting First Nation governments, environment and economic partnerships, community development and safety and child welfare/social development.  The sessions included an overview of past AFN resolutions with direct linkages to relevant articles of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The sessions were facilitated by Regional Chiefs with portfolio responsibility and AFN team leaders.  As this is the first time AFN has implemented this approach, we look forward to your feedback and encourage those who participated to provide any comments to AFN Chief Operating Officer Peter Dinsdale at pdinsdale@afn.ca  


Pursuing First Nations Self-Determination:  Realizing our Rights and Responsibilities

First Nations in this country face many challenges but together we can and will move forward and achieve our goals of creating communities and governments that grow and thrive.  It’s our time now to build each other up and support one another.  It starts by forging a path forward together.  

In my opening address to Chiefs and delegates on July 12th I reflected back the many efforts being made by First Nations across Canada to assert rights and build and rebuild our nations and economies.  These efforts are the foundation as we take further steps toward strong First Nation governments.  We want to control over the decisions that affect our lives and give power back to our people.  

My remarks were accompanied by the release of a discussion paper titled “Pursuing First Nations Self-Determination: Realizing our Rights and Responsibilities”.  The paper presents a suggested path forward based on feedback from First Nation leaders and citizens in the last year as well as incorporating suggestions and recommendations from First Nations in other important studies like the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. It is firmly grounded in the Treaty relationship, the nation-to-nation relationship envisioned and expressed by our ancestors and consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This paper sets out some next steps in our work of moving away from the Indian Act toward a system that works for First Nations and all Canadians.  

The discussion paper presents four elements:  

1.    The First Nation-Crown Relationship – we are progressing through steps like the First Nation-Crown Gathering, First Ministers Meetings with First Nations and a potential First Nation-Crown agreement that advances and affirms our rights.
2.    New Fiscal Relationships – built on common, mutually acceptable principles that guarantee and deliver sustainable, equitable services based on mutually agreed-to standards.
3.    Implementation of First Nation Governments – through building our institutions, planning and accountability mechanisms
4.    Structural Change – we must drive structural change that affirms First Nation jurisdiction, including careful legal review and analysis. Right now the bureaucracy and its policies are failing miserably.  We need new structures that affirm the relationship and uphold responsibility.

This is not new. First Nations are all on advancing our rights. There are different approaches, circumstances and realities, but it is a journey with a clear and common destination, one that affirms our rightful place in our lands and territories and cherishes our children and creates a better future for them. It’s a destination that brings us back to the original relationship and fulfills the vision of our ancestors to see a better day for our peoples.  It’s up to us now to fulfill that vision by strengthening First Nation governments to realize the full potential of First Nations.  


Other AGA Highlights

Ride for Indigenous Languages:
The “Ride for Indigenous Languages” started just outside Ottawa on July 7 and arrived in Moncton on July 9.  The ride was established to gain support for the preservation and protection of Indigenous languages in Canada.  There were up to 13 riders on the road, led by Anishinaabek Mushkegowuk Onkwehon:we Language Commission of Oniatari':io (AMO) Chief Commissioner Nelson Toulouse of Sagamok First Nation in Ontario. We passed through Chief Joanna Bernard community of Madawaska Maliseet First Nation, where she made a generous contribution of $5000 that was raised by her community.

IndigenACTION 5K Friendship Run/Walk:
Sponsored by The Running Room, Tim Hortons and Nike, AFN and the National Youth Council hosted a 5K Friendship Run/Walk on Sunday July 10.  A partnership was launched with Nike to continue efforts to improve health, sport and fitness in First Nation communities.  About 100 people participated in the event, including Elders, a number of Chiefs and Regional Chiefs and IndigenACTION Ambassador and Olympian Waneek Horn-Miller.

Statements of Partnership:
The AFN continues to reach out to organizations, businesses, corporations and institutions in a broad call to action to work together, draw attention to and address the challenges facing First Nations.   During the Assembly statements of partnership were signed between AFN and:  Nike, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, Canadian Education for Development through Education, LIUNA Construction and General Workers’ Union Local 92 and the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin announced, with plans to sign at a later date.

Special Presentations and Awards:

Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue joined the Assembly July 13, who I welcomed with a prayer chant. Minister Penashue spoke about moving toward a shift in the relationship between First Nations and the Government of Canada.  He stated:“I sense a real feeling among government to tackle the national Aboriginal issues that are most challenging from a federal point of view.  There’s a willingness to sit down and make an effort to try to deal with these very difficult issues.”

An Innu from Labrador with a 20 year career spanning a number of leadership roles, Minister Penashue is recognized as one of the leading spokespersons for Innu rights and interests.  He sat in on some of the break-out sessions July 13th, including education and land claims, and listened to deliberations at the AGA for part of the afternoon.

The late Shannen Koostachin was honoured as the inaugural recipient of the National Youth Advocacy Award, accepted July 12th by her parents Andrew Koostachin and Jenny Nakogee from Attawapiskat First Nation.  

“Our daughter spoke about justice, about fairness and about equality,” said Andrew Koostachin during the award presentation.  “We accept this award for all the youth across the country. Our daughter was a champion, but there are many like her across the country and we must encourage, nourish and honour them.”

The National Youth Advocacy Award will be presented annually to dedicated Indigenous youth that demonstrate outstanding personal commitment to positive change and social justice for their people while at the same time building bridges among cultures and communities.

The late Alfonso Miguel Martinez, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Treaties was honoured for his work on Treaty rights with the first ever presentation of the Treaty Rights Recognition Honouring event.  We hope to make this a regular event at our Assemblies.   Mr. Martinez’s widow was at the Assembly to accept the recognition on his behalf.  


Council of the Federation – July 20

I want to provide a brief update from the Council of the Federation Meeting that took place in Vancouver on July 20.

As you know, AFN has been working with Provincial Premiers and Territorial leaders through their Council of the Federation for a number of years now.  While First Nations have a direct political, legal and historical relationship with the federal government, the premiers and territorial leaders are important in supporting and pressing for action on our key priorities.  We have been successful in establishing an Aboriginal Affairs Working Group to ensure work continues beyond and between Council of the Federation meetings as well as meetings with Council of Ministers of Education Canada.

At the meeting on July 20, AFN set out First Nation priorities and related recommendations on First Nation education, First Nation economic development, ending violence against Aboriginal women and girls and improving crisis and emergency response management between all jurisdictions, an urgent issue given the flooding and fires that have affected many provinces and territories this year.

First Nation, Métis and Inuit leaders also called for a full First Ministers Meeting on our issues to be held within 12 months.  Focused attention and clear inter-governmental cooperation is urgently needed to confirm and advance key priorities for First Nations.  The Prime Minister has already agreed to a specific First Nation-Crown Gathering later this year. A full First Ministers Meeting would be a forum to engage all parties in implementation of action plans on key priorities.

The AFN will provide more information on the outcomes of this meeting and next steps.


Upcoming Online Webinars - Canadian Human Rights Act on July 28 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on August 8

The AFN is hosting two online webinars on topics that directly affect First Nations.  You can get more information about both of these at the AFN website and background information on the topics at www.afn.ca.

1. Webinar on the Canadian Human Rights Act and First Nations – July 28, 1 – 4 pm ET

The AFN and the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) are hosting a panel discussion on recent changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act that affect First Nations.  Panelists from the AFN, CHRC and others will discuss the Canadian Human Rights Act and its application to First Nations, new opportunities for First Nations, new responsibilities and challenges for First Nations and resources to help First Nations governments promote and protect human rights.

2. Webinar on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, August 8, 1 – 4 pm ET

The AFN will host a webinar on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – what it is, what it means to First Nations and how it can be used to advance First Nations rights and jurisdiction.  The webinar will include participants from AFN, Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee), Amnesty International and other organizations to speak about the UN Declaration.

Both webinars can be viewed at www.afn.ca.

We will be sure to provide you with information about all these initiatives and announcements in the very near future. I encourage you to keep a watch on our website and, while there, sign on to our e-mail list to receive all updates (see “Subscribe via email” on the left side of the main page).

I thank you all for your continued support and engagement in our work. I wish you a good summer and I look forward to meeting you in the coming days, weeks and months.


Kleco, kleco!

Assembly of First Nations