what you don’t know…

…can hurt us. I mean us who live out here in these communities and territories. Not you who comment from afar based on… what?

AFN's logo

AFN's logo

Lately, I’ve had some interesting conversations about the Assembly of First Nations and the candidates running for the job of head of that organization. We talked about who might win the job and replace Phil Fontaine. We’ve discussed the way the candidates applied for the job, and the strange method the voting chiefs have chosen to conduct job interviews (elections, if you prefer).

In other words, we’ve analyzed a lot more than what we’ve seen in the coverage by the mainstream news media, and the media’s select court jesters such as Joe Quesnel. (I compare him to one of my regulars and his fascination with a well-know conspiracy theorist-cum-blogger nicknamed “Scenty.” What would life be without them?)

As we talked about the AFN, and picked apart the coverage by the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the CBC, and other news organizations, we agreed that the mainstream has this weird idea (aided and abetted by the aforementioned court jesters) that the AFN is actually a national government.

Now where did they get that idea? More to the point, how might anyone dissuade them of this ridiculous fallicy?

The mainstream news media seems hell-bent on accepting – without a shred of skepticism – that this “election of a national chief” is taking place so that Indians across Canada can select someone who will become, as one CBC reporter said, “the most powerful Indian in Canada.”

WTF!? I damn near fell off my keyboard when I heard that one. Tell me that a senior CBC national reporter did not use those words. Oh, yes, she did. Where did she get the information to back up that statement? Certainly not in any Native Studies or Canadian history or political science course. Because it don’t exist.

In our growing alarm over inaccuracies by the media’s coverage of the AFN, and the selection process of a new head of this organization, we decided to try to correct inaccuracies by explaining what the AFN is NOT. Hopefully, along the way, it might also explain what the head of this organization is NOT as well.

The AFN has never been an organization of individual status Indians. It was once an organization of regional and provincial Indian organizations. It changed into an organization representing the heads of band councils on reserves, aka “chiefs.” This is why 633 chiefs across Canada get to vote for the candidates running for Phil Fontaine’s job. This is also why there is NOT “one member, one vote.”

What’s that, Joe? You don’t get the concept? Hmmm… I wish I had some pop-up pictures. Let’s try this again, shall we?

The AFN is not a national government for status Indians in Canada, despite what some idiots (come on down, Joe) would have you believe. The AFN’s structure is closer to that of a national union, like CUPE, for instance. The union’s membership in a local (say Local 233) vote for a local representative, much like band members vote in band council elections.

Local reps may then elect regional or provincial representatives, similar to the way in which John Beaucage was elected to head up one of the regional Indian organizations in Ontario.

Local and regional union reps then get to select the national executive for CUPE. (Correct me here, but I don’t believe every member has a direct vote for national president of CUPE.) Similarly, every now and then, the chiefs cluster to select a new head of their national organization, the AFN. It was never meant to be a “one member, one vote” system. Capiche?

Why not, you ask? Have you done any homework at all, Joe? You really should try reading some day. We have some good schools you might ask about.

Similar to the relations between locals and the national office of CUPE, or any number of other unions and associations, locals guard their autonomy or authority with vigour. They resist encroachment on their turf by the regional offices, and much more so with the national office.

At the same time, the locals may recognize that there are some things the national office may do best, such as lobbying, coordinating or conducting research on issues in common across the country, monitoring government actions or changes in policy. But national executives in unions try hard to avoid encroaching upon or undermining the locals or the regional representatives. It tends to piss them off.

Y’unnerstan? To paraphrase that great philosopher, Spider-man: With great executive power comes great checks and balances upon the executive.

This isn’t rocket science, Joe. So stay awake, and listen up.

I know you want to make the head of the AFN into some sort of national king of the Indians. After all, why put up with 633 chiefs that you and your so-called think tank consider corrupt and dishonest? Do I have that right, Joe? You suggest cutting out the chiefs so that the Feds need only deal with one corrupt and dishonest bozo at the AFN. Right?

C’mon, admit it. That’s what you and the Frontier Centre think of the chiefs, and what you propose as more effective and efficient. It’s also dumb, as in: You don’t know what the f*ck you’re talking about.

Big problem. How do you get the chiefs to surrender their local authority and autonomy? Or to continue the union analogy: How do you get the head of a union local to hand over its autonomy to the national executive? First: Why the hell should they? It would be difficult enough with a union local, but the head of a reserve (unlike a union local) is also the head of a local government.

What? You didn’t factor that in when you thought things out? Maybe you didn’t think in the first place? But I digress.

That’s right. Indian band councils have constitutionally and legally recognized political powers as local governments, as per the Indian Act. Band councils can make by-laws, for instance. Okay, they can make by-laws for dog licences – but it’s still a law-making power of a legally-constituted government as defined in Canadian law.

The AFN, on the other hand, does not have governmental powers. It is an organization, a registered national corporation, representing the interests of band council chiefs. Big difference between the two. One can make laws regulating human behaviours and conditions (a government) while the other cannot (an organization).

Do you honestly think any chief in her right mind is going to hand over that kind of power to the next Phil Fontaine? Or hand over the authority to negotiate a land claim? Or make deals on oil and gas exploration? Diamond mines? Local health emergencies? Do you honestly think the folks on any reserve will let that happen? Be honest, Joe.

There are other considerations too. Why should the Mohawks surrender something they’ve repeatedly defended for more than 250 years, have never sold or surrendered, have not had taken away in war or by conquest. Wanna guess? After all, you claim to be Mohawk, Joe. No answer? Can’t figure it out? Refuse to admit it?

Their sovereignty, Joe, as an Indigenous nation. Confused? Or just in deep denial?

More to the point, I dare you to come on down to Mohawk country and ask the folks down here to put their rights into the hands of a Plains Cree, or an Ojibway, or a Coast Salish. I can predict a very tragic outcome in your future, if you decide to do so. The folks down this way would run yer sorry butt out of town faster than the SQ on July 11. I’m just saying.

Go ask the Cree of Quebec to hand over the James Bay Agreement to the AFN and to the next Phil Fontaine. I double dog dares ya.

Next, go ask the Nisga’a to do the same with their Agreement. I think you’d be called a lot of very rude names.

But then ask yourself: Why would those two groups consider such an idiotic suggestion in the first place?

I doubt whether you could ever find a single Cree in all nine communities across northern Quebec, or a single Nisga’a citizen in their B.C. communities,willing to say they’d voluntarily agree to hand over their rights to the AFN (or anyone hoping to become the next Fontaine).

Finally, Joe, the AFN is not now – nor has it ever been a national government. It was never designed to act like one, or to be one. It was created to do a very particular job, and that’s all. I know, Fontaine didn’t like the structure and spent a lot of time and money trying to convince the chiefs to hand over their power. He failed though.

Similar to the office of a national union, the AFN was designed to conduct and compile research in certain areas in support of local reserve or regional initiatives, to monitor governments for changes in policy and law, to lobby government to make changes in policy and law that the chiefs see as advantageous to their populations. It was designed to work from the bottom-up; not the other way around.

The head of the AFN is a national spokesperson, a national lobbyist, a national figurehead with no real power except to run a national office effectively and efficiently. He ain’t no king of the Indians. The media made him out to be the “11th premier” in the mid-1980s, but that didn’t change reality. Get it?

Still, you and most of the news media seem to have decided – without a single fact to back up this lame-brained idea – that this is what the AFN must be or become. Ergo, your dumber and dumberer “one member, one vote” idea.

If you and most of the mainstream media reporting on this story would only educate yourselves before shooting off your big yaps, spreading disinformation, you might actually help advance organizational change.

Instead, you seem determined to lead from a position of ignorance. In doing so, you serve no one but the gods of stupidity – not to mention doing the Canadian public a huge disservice.

Nuff sed.

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5 Comments

Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canada, Canadian politics, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights, journalism

5 responses to “what you don’t know…

  1. Joseph Quesnel

    The only smiling idiot around here is you.. Speaking to yourself in the blogosphere..
    Oh, so the AFN does not represent individual First Nations.. Ok, so that’s why the AFN’s own 2005 Renewal Commission called for a one member, one vote election system to (their quote) “be more relevant to the people they represent.”
    What I have proposed in my writings, which you did not of course include. It’s so easy to mock someone who cannot defend themselves..
    Indigenous people want their AFN to move towards a more democratic system. But, of course, you’re so much more intelligent than them!
    The AFN does not have formal powers, but it has significant pull within the federal government. Perhaps you have no experience in this, but I have actually covered both House and Senate committees where you could see the AFN’s pull on the “national Aboriginal agenda.”
    So, stop deceiving your readers with your ill-advised nonsense that the AFN is not important. The AFN has been able to kill legislation or water it down significantly. Even if you disagree with its basis for existence, you understand and appreciate its power. This is why it makes sense to keep its powers in check by making it more responsive to average First Nation people.
    One member, one vote is only one idea among several that may accomplish this. You need to get out more and listen to indigenous people..
    You’ve got a big ego and a big puffed head to go with it, shmohawk. I hope you learn some humility at one point in your life.

  2. Joseph Quesnel

    Oh boy, some profound thoughts from Shmohawk…
    “The AFN has never been an organization of individual status Indians.”

    Ok, translation= Because something is designed to be one way, it can never change to be something else, which could be better..

    Wow, Shmohawk, you’re deep.

    Does this mean then that because the AFN is designed to be unrepresentative, it can never be made to be so?

    So, all the indigenous people who participated in the AFN’s renewal commission over a few years were all simply mistaken. When they called for major reforms to how the AFN governs itself, they were just lazy idiots?
    I sure wish you were there to tell these ignorant people that the system could never change because “hey, it wasn’t designed to represent you in any way.”

    Ok, yes, the AFN is a lobby group. I never said it was not. But, this organization plays a significant role in influencing the “national Aboriginal agenda” and profoundly affects legislation which impacts the every day lives of thousands of indigenous peoples, but those same people should have no real role in selecting who will represent them?
    I respond in sarcasm Shmohawk because you choose to. I would actually like to engage you in a respectful discussion, but this is how you speak, so if I am being engaged from the gutter, I will respond likewise.
    I think at a minimum, chiefs who would vote for national chief should be required to hold consultations with their band members on who they should vote for. At present, very few bands actually do this.
    Shmohawk, you have some weird theories about what the Frontier Centre stands for in terms of indigenous people. We have never said anything remotely close to proposing that chiefs be “cut out” of the system. You seem confused on that, probably because you are literally making this stuff up. We make proposals so that band governance (we make proposals for the system on the ground, not the self-governing indigenous national governments that many wish for) runs better for the vast majority of band members. Is that evil to you?
    Lastly, you are upset about a comment a CBC reporter made referring to the AFN national chief as “national king of the Indians.” I NEVER said that! Stop confusing me for someone else. I would not say something like that. Please stop misrepresenting my views or the intentions of the Frontier Centre.

  3. Pingback: Jack’s Newswatch » Blog Archive » what you don’t know… (1)

  4. shmohawk

    Here’s a late suggestion to those newspapers that ran stories during the past few weeks criticizing the method used by the Assembly of First Nations to choose a new leader.

    While plenty of other organizations select their executives in a similar fashion, they might want to focus on the the House of Commons and the Prime Minister of Canada.

    Did they miss one helluva scandal – or what?!

  5. Pingback: what you don’t know… (1) | Jack's Newswatch

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