AFN General Assembly begins today, ahead of new leader’s vote


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OTTAWA – First Nations chiefs and delegates will come together virtually this week to discuss their communities’ priorities and plans for moving forward – though they also reflect on a past that has been brought to light more harshly with recent ones. discoveries of anonymous graves in former boarding schools.

The 42nd Annual General Meeting of the Assembly of First Nations will begin on Tuesday and will include the election of a new national chief to represent the 634 First Nations of the advocacy organization, which includes more than 900,000 people.

Outgoing National Chief Perry Bellegarde signaled his intention not to stand for re-election last December, saying he spent his six years in the post helping bring Indigenous issues to the forefront of Canadian public life.

He has been called upon to respond to news that First Nations have used ground-penetrating radar to locate what are believed to be the remains of hundreds of Indigenous children buried in anonymous graves at the sites of at least three old boarding schools.

But Bellegarde’s feelings in his last days in power remained optimistic.

“I encourage you to take the time today to reflect on the atrocities committed against First Nations. It’s also a chance to listen and learn how we can improve Canada’s future for everyone, ”Bellegarde said in a series of tweets posted on Canada Day – a day marked with lowered flags and silent vigils instead of celebrations in many places across the country.

“We all know there is still work to be done. I am happy to see that Canadians, especially young people, have entered into a national dialogue on reconciliation that many could not face before. It is progress. “

Bellegarde has underlined its success by pushing several important initiatives. This includes legislation to revitalize and protect Indigenous languages, increase Indigenous voter turnout in general elections, and see legislation harmonizing Canada’s laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples receive Royal Assent last month.

Now he says it is up to Canadians to take the next steps and educate themselves on what is needed to continue building towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

He wants everyone to read the reports from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, and the testimonies of residential school survivors, calling these “easy things anyone can do.” “.

“We need all Canadians to embark on the path of reconciliation. Canada’s best story has yet to be written.

Seven candidates are in the running to replace Bellegarde as the next National Chief, including three women. The AFN has never been represented by a woman.

Applicants include:

  • Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Alvin Fiddler and outgoing Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald of Ontario;

  • Cathy Martin from the Mi’gmag Listuguj Nation in Quebec;

  • outgoing regional chief Kevin Hart of Manitoba;

  • Muskowekwan First Nation Chief Reginald Bellerose of Saskatchewan;

  • former Tsuut’ina First Nation Chief Lee Crowchild and Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, Executive Director of the Yellowhead Indigenous Education Foundation, Alberta.

Several ballots are expected before a winner is declared on Wednesday. A candidate must obtain 60 percent of the votes cast to win. After each round of voting, the candidate with the fewest ballots will be eliminated until one of them finally obtains 60 percent support.

A number of First Nations organizations and individuals have sent letters of concern to AFN leaders asking to postpone the vote, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

A resolution calling for a postponement of the elections is on the agenda of discussions between the chiefs and their proxies on Tuesday, noting that the AFN charter does not allow online elections and that concerns have been expressed over what would happen if the election results were challenged.

Nonetheless, a vote is expected to take place virtually on July 7.

On Tuesday, Bellegarde will deliver remarks, and there will be a tribute to his time at the helm. Next, the virtual event will hold a minute of silence for children who have gone missing or died while attending residential schools.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 6, 2021.

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