…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.