Confederacy of Nations

Confederacy of Nations


The Confederacy of Nations is one of seven principle organs of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) established in the AFN Charter in 1985.  There have been numerous attempts and efforts to address concerns, to update and to ensure the organization, mandate and structure evolves and adapts according to the direction of First Nations including major efforts reflecting on Nation-building and the need for protocols in 1996/97 and then a larger formal effort undertaken by the AFN Renewal Commission in 2004/05.

Throughout all of these efforts, beginning with the formation of the League of Indian Nations, the National Indian Brotherhood and the Declaration adopted in 1980, there is a common guiding philosophy that establishes the foundation for today’s Assembly of First Nations as a forum for coordination, advocacy and support for First Nations as they rebuild their Nations and strive to achieve self-reliance and self-determination as Nations.

With regard to recent developments, the following note provides a record of organizational matters pertaining to the Confederacy of Nations and recommendations for a path forward.


Early Ideas

A review of records has identified a number of challenges with practical implementation of the Confederacy since its very inception.  The Confederacy of Nations was established as an organ of the AFN as part of its transition from the National Indian Brotherhood in 1983.  Before its first meeting a report from Rarihokwats to National Chief Ahenakew identified a number of issues with the newly created structure:

The National Chief has been put – probably unintentionally – in an impossible position.  He is elected by the chiefs, and presumably responsible to them.  However, a resolution of the Assembly instructs him to report to and take direction from the Confederacy, which in turn is to report to and take direction from the Assembly … how can the Confederacy take direction from the Assembly, when each member is entitled to represent the wishes of his First Nation, tribe or treaty area? Are Confederacy members responsible to their nation, or to the Assembly as a whole?”

Chiefs convened a Chiefs’ Committee on Structure in 1983 to examine AFN structure and make recommendations that could be incorporated or recognized within a Charter.  The CCS identified challenges with the Confederacy of Nations and made specific recommendations with regard to its accountability:

“Clearly, even if both provincial and nation boundaries were equally appropriate, when an intermediate body is based upon one constituency while the larger body is based upon another constituency, the intermediate body cannot be said to be accountable to the same larger body or to its own constituents.This appears to be the current situation with respect to the Confederacy of First Nations.  While they attempt to hold the National Chief accountable between Assemblies, they cannot, for their members find their primary constituency through other associations or through very different electoral processes.  They are not elected nor accountable to the Assembly as a whole. How can they be accountable to a body that does not elect them?

Should it be decided by First Nation Chiefs to continue with an intermediary body within the structure of the Assembly, its members must be selected and accountable to the Assembly as a whole. Its powers and functions should be clearly spelled out and it should not be permitted to interfere with the decision-making authority granted the Office of the National Chief.  This body would be unable to hold the National Chief accountable between assemblies, nor should they be allowed to do so. The National Chief is elected by the Assembly as a whole and can only be accountable to that body.  This situation would be different if the intermediary body was to elect the National Chief, who would then become accountable to the intermediary body.”

(p. 23 – 24)

Adoption of the AFN Charter

Despite the discussions and various regional positions leading up to the adoption of the AFN Charter, the Charter itself represents the final agreed to structure of the Confederacy of Nations. The scope of the Confederacy and its accountability to Chiefs-in-Assembly was written in the Charter adopted in 1985 as follows.



The Confederacy of Nations shall be composed of First Nations representatives of each region on the basis of one representative for each region plus one representative for each 10,000 First Nations’ citizens of that region. 

For the purposes of representatives and quorum, the Executive Committee shall maintain a record of the First Nations populations of each region which shall be British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, Northwest Territories, Yukon Territory.


  1. The Confederacy of Nations exists and functions as the governing body between assemblies of the First Nations-in-Assembly, with authority:

a)    To review and enforce decisions and directions of the First Nations-in-Assembly.

b)    To interpret resolutions, decisions and directions of the First Nations-in-Assembly in cases where ambiguity or conflict arises in the interpretation of resolutions, decisions.

c)    To ensure that the Secretariat and Executive Committee (including the National Chief) conform to, and implement, the decisions and directions of the First Nations-in-Assembly.

d)    To take corrective and remedial disciplinary measures in respect of any member of the Secretariat or Executive Committee (including the National Chief) in instances of willful breach of a national mandate.

e)    To receive, consider, make decisions and take appropriate action on any matter raised by an individual First Nation or collectively of First Nations between meetings of the First Nations-in-Assembly provided that the response and action undertaken is within the scope of existing delegated mandates of the First Nations-in-Assembly, and provided resources that may be required are available and within the budget of the organization, and further provided that the matter dealt with does not have a detrimental effect on the rights and interests of all First Nations.

f)     To address any emergency in matters of a fundamental nature affecting one or more First Nations. The Confederacy of Nations shall consider, first, whether that matter is of a fundamental, second, whether an emergency exists before any decision or action is taken on that matter. Any decision made shall be referred to the First Nations-in-Assembly at the earliest opportunity for ratification.

g)    To approve, allocate, monitor and control the fiscal resources of the Assembly of First Nations.

h)    To develop short-term and long-term plans and establish priorities consistent with the directions and decisions of the First Nations-in-Assembly.

i)      To ensure that quarterly written reports are submitted directly to the Chiefs of the First Nations.



  1. The Confederacy of Nations shall be accountable to, shall report to and take direction from the First Nations-in-Assembly.


Implementation Challenges

Even following adoption of the Charter, implementation and legitimacy challenges continued with regards to the Confederacy of Nations.

In 2002, the National Chief requested a discussion paper: Leading to an Appropriate Structure for the Assembly of First Nations (also written by Rarihokwats).

The paper notes “The transition from one organization to the other was never completed. The political needs of the times couldn’t wait while organizational details were worked out.  Political activism came first, organizational niceties could wait.

… the still-to-be-finished structure, with two competing governing systems is causing the Assembly of First Nations to consume a high proportion of its energies in maintaining its own governance with little energy and resources left over to pursue the goals for which it was set up.” (p.2)

The paper outlines how the organization was formed without a view to structure, and those who created it had different understandings of what the organization would look like.

“The result is that the Assembly of First Nations today is a structure with inherent conflicts and cross-purposes.  It is governable by the goodwill of all concerned, but if goodwill is lacking, the conflicts will prevail and render the Assembly inoperative, dysfunctional and unable to fulfill the high purpose for which it was created” (p. 21)

“It was in the AFN’s second year, 1983, that there was concern for worry.  The Confederacy and the Assembly of Chiefs were taking different sides on the same question.  The Assembly would close one day, the Confederacy would meet the next, and the National Chief was faced with two resolutions to follow, each headed in opposite directions from the other.” (p. 22)

Numerous times, Chiefs have given direction to seriously consider options for restructuring, including clarifying the mandate and operation of the Confederacy of Nations. Generally, these have been eclipsed by substantive policy matters that Chiefs have come together to address, and restructuring and clarification have been put aside.

The Confederacy of Nations was last active in 2003 – 2004.  At that time there was great concern regarding selection of delegates and opportunity for all Chiefs to exercise their voice and vote in the Assembly of First Nations.

In an internal memo to the AFN Executive in May 2003, it was identified that “by practice and convention Confederacies are taking on the role of an Assembly.  The confederacy of Nations does not meet four times a year as laid out in the charter but twice a year. Confederacy decisions are not being reviewed or ratified by First Nations-in-Assembly.  Confederacy meetings are using the same rules as a General Assembly or Special Assembly”

The December 2003 Confederacy of Nations saw a deliberate decision among Chiefs upon adoption of the rules to function upon a “one First Nation-one vote” model as opposed to the delegation as outlined in the Charter at section 11.

Subsequently, the National Chief convened a Spring Confederacy Meeting to take place in May 2004, including the following commentary in the notice:

“At the commencement of the December 2003 Confederacy meeting, the Chair read the usual Rules of Procedure for AFN Assemblies with the exception that the Confederacy would follow Article 11 of the Charter concerning representatives.  He then called a vote, and the Rules were accepted.  However, once the Chair asked for the regions to identify their official representatives, some Chiefs raised concerns about inadequate Notice.  They pointed out that all of the Chiefs or proxies in attendance had travelled to Ottawa with the belief that they would have full representative status.

After debating the issue, the delegates voted to follow the usual Rules of Procedure for AFN Assemblies of allowing all Chiefs or their proxies to participate fully in the Confederacy meeting.  However the Chair gave verbal notice to these Chiefs and proxies in attendance that the next Confederacy Meeting would be held pursuant to Article 11 of the AFN Charter.”

Direct correspondence was received by the National Chief from Chiefs of Ontario, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and AFN Quebec and Labrador, along with individual First Nations, objecting to restricting delegations of the Confederacy to the process prescribed in Article 11 of the AFN Charter.

At the 2003 Spring Confederacy of Nations meeting, a number of structural changes were discussed and advanced, with consensus reached that a broad dialogue was needed among First Nations on the structure and function of the AFN.  In response, the AFN Renewal Commission began its work in January 2004 as an independent commission operating at arms-length from the AFN.


The Renewal Commission noted in its introduction, “Since the Assembly of First Nations was established in the early 1980s, many options for change to its organization and procedures have been advanced. Despite this, a substantial and deep reform of the AFN has never been accomplished. Twenty years after its ratification at the 1985 Annual General Assembly in Vancouver, the AFN Charter remains largely unchanged, as do its rules of procedure and its administrative structure, the National Indian Brotherhood.” 

As part of its review, the AFN Renewal Commission made the following observations and recommendations:

The Confederacy of Nations

At the AFN’s formation, it was intended that the Confederacy of Nations and the First Nations-in-Assembly would be distinct entities, with distinct memberships, purposes and decision-making functions. The Confederacy of Nations, a smaller body than the First Nations-in-Assembly, comprises the National Chief, AFN Regional Chiefs and one representative for every 10,000 First Nation citizens in each region. In practice, the Confederacy has approximately 74 participants and meets on a quarterly basis. The Confederacy was created to review, interpret and enforce decisions and directions of the First Nations-in-Assembly and provide ongoing direction to the AFN and the Executive Committee between Assemblies. 

Today, there appears to be little separation between the Confederacy and the First Nations–in-Assembly. Over time, an AFN custom has emerged where any Chief may exercise delegate privileges, including voting rights, at a Confederacy meeting. The two structures share the same type of authority, decision-making processes and powers. Their business is similar. The apparent duplication of function and activity, sometimes working at cross-purposes, has led the AFN membership to conclude that the Confederacy and its meetings are unnecessary.

The volume of commentary and testimony received by the Commission concerning the Confederacy rivaled that received on the subject of the overall representativeness of the AFN. Participants in the Renewal Commission’s public hearing process expressed concerns regarding representation within the Confederacy’s structure, its processes and accountability. Many expressed their view that the Confederacy is irrelevant and should be eliminated. 

Decisions taken by the First Nations-in-Assembly are often subject to reversal by the Confederacy of Nations. As a result, the Confederacy is sometimes viewed as an inefficient, even counterproductive force in the pursuit of a coherent, consistent, integrated national First Nation agenda.

One of the reasons for this situation, in which there is conflict, duplication and overlap in the activities of the two assembly structures, is that the Confederacy often does not rigorously adhere to the mandate it has been given in the AFN Charter. This, of course, contributes to the confusion leaders and officials express concerning the role of the Confederacy and their participation in Confederacy meetings.

The Commission concludes a renewed AFN can and will function effectively and efficiently without the Confederacy of Nations.”

It is important to note that while the Renewal Commission recommended that the Confederacy be dissolved, this was in the context of other fundamental organizational and accountability changes being implemented including Citizens Forums, National Policy Forums and changes to Assemblies, voting for National Chief and roles of Regional Chiefs.

Chiefs-in-Assembly endorsed the Renewal Report Recommendations and instructed a Taskforce to move forward on AFN Renewal in Resolution 21-2007.  A review of progress in 2008 shows that the majority of recommendations were implemented throughout the organization. At that time  there was recommendation for a Special Assembly to be called to amend the AFN Charter and address actions regarding fundamental structural change, including dissolving of the Confederacy (summary 08-04-17 attached).  This Assembly did not take place again due to overriding policy issues as opposed to organizational matters requiring attention.

There is still interest in advancing change. For example, Resolution 20-2013 directs reconsideration of AFN decision-making to reflect and respond to Nation building efforts. 


From the very inception of the AFN there have been challenges in terms of adequate understanding of the role and function of the Confederacy of Nations and its implementation, keeping with the overall vision of the Assembly of First Nations functioning akin to a United Nations model, as the Nations re-build and achieve self-reliance and self-determination. While there have been numerous proposals for structural change, these have not been formally incorporated into the structure of the AFN.

It is important to note that even while the Confederacy met on an active basis, it did not retain its own authority between meetings, and was fully supported through the AFN Secretariat. The Secretariat is defined in the AFN Charter as a distinct organ to provide administrative, technical and support services to the Assembly of First Nations.  It is also an incorporated body and therefore is required to operate pursuant to the Corporations Act.

The political and social environment for First Nations continues to evolve, and the AFN needs to be a responsive and reflective body to the direction of First Nations in a manner consistent with their political evolution and the broader context.  It remains that such fundamental change needs to be made by First Nations rebuilding and functioning as Nations through extensive engagement and dialogue and should not be driven solely by regional interests.

This is an opportune time to fully examine the role and function of AFN’s organizational structures, and move forward on changes to strengthen inclusive and responsive decision-making and support for all Nations. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples 1996 identified nation re-building and affirmation as critical elements of progress in Crown-First Nation relationships. Many diverse efforts among Nations and Treaty groups are underway across the country.

AFN Renewal called on AFN to be respected by all levels of Government, rooted in our languages and cultures, representative of the diverse Nations, responsive to emerging needs and interests of all First Nations as they assert their rights and jurisdiction

Building on initial an exchange at the December 2013 SCA in furtherance of resolution 20-2013 and dialogue advanced with the National Executive and former National Chiefs, it may be important to now advance this conversation on restructuring  at the 2014 Annual General Assembly with options generated for deliberation and direction at the December Special Chiefs Assembly.




1983, The Assembly of First Nations’ Report on Structure and Accountability, prepared for the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs by the Chiefs’ Committee on Structure.

1997, A Proposal for the Restructuring of the Assembly of First Nations.  The Restructuring Committee.

2001, Assembly of First Nations: A focused and clear vision for the future.

December 2002, A Discussion Paper: Leading to An Appropriate Structure for the Assembly of First Nations.

May 2005, A Treaty Amongst Ourselves: Returning to the Spirit of our PeoplesReport of Recommendations. AFN Renewal Commission.

April 2008, AFN Renewal: Review, Analysis and Recommendations. 

April 2014, Transforming AFN Decision-Making ~ Supporting Nation Re-Building and Strengthening Citizen Engagement.

rdbrinkhurstConfederacy of Nations