Check out our Aboriginal Job Board!
Full steam ahead
Phil Fontaine, elected on July 16 with the support of just over 60 per cent of a record number of voters, believes no national chief has ever had such a strong mandate. He clearly intends to wield it aggressively and that isn't sitting well with many chiefs who say the national chief's job is to do what they tell him to do.
All signs indicate that Fontaine is going to be questioned very intensely during a special assembly he called for Oct. 8 and 9. The assembly will take place at the Squamish Recreation Centre in Vancouver.
Just two months into his term, the new national leader is already in the eye of several political hurricanes.
As many as seven AFN employees, including two of the organization's longest serving technicians, were fired in September, prompting outrage in many corners. Several new employees coming in have connections to the federal government, which adds to the outrage and concern. Several of the fired employees are talking to a Montreal labor lawyer about possible legal action. Even if there is no lawsuit, the severance costs to the AFN could approach $250,000.
The work done by many of these former employees was related to the rights-based agenda, an agenda the government has shown disdain for and one which Fontaine campaigned against in favor of a more pragmatic, less confrontational approach to dealing with government.
Published reports show that more than a million dollars has been budgeted for transition, including a healthy sum to redecorate the national chief's office.
There is also a dispute about whether Fontaine said on the campaign trail that he supports Bill C-19, the First Nations financial institutions legislation. He claims he did; his opponents say he didn't.
That has left the national chief exposed to a lot of criticism from chiefs and from allies who have worked with First Nations leaders to oppose Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault's suite of governance legislation.
Ontario AFN Regional Chief Charles Fox was surprised to hear that Fontaine has come out in support of C-19.
"I have to talk to the national chief about that. I did send out a press communique. I sent him a letter, just stating my position. I talked to the chief of Whitefish, called him personally and he said that he did talk to the national chief and the national chief told him that he supports Bill C-19," he said. "He was very blunt about it. I sent him a letter of protest, saying there's still AFN resolutions that reject C-19, as well as C-6 and C-7 and that the national chief can't make unilateral decisions to reverse those resolutions."
Franklin Paibomsai has been chief of the 300-member Whitefish River First Nation (located an hour's drive southwest of Sudbury) since last December. The University of Toronto-educated civil engineer has been dogging Fontaine all summer, demanding explanations to many of the above mentioned concerns.
After sending a half-dozen or more letters to the national chief from Aug. 8 onwards, he received a response on Sept. 12. Paibomsai told Windspeaker that Fontaine informed him he would support C-19 with an amendment," Paibomsai said.
The amendment Fontaine wanted, and got, was the inclusion of a non-derogation clause.
The Whitefish River chief said his conversations with Fontaine started out pleasantly but didn't end that way.
"He raised questions about me sending letters. For the record, I sent many letters [starting] right after his election. I finally got a letter and it's in response to all my inquiries. It basically says, I have a 60 per cent mandate. These are the issues. I thank you very much for raising the issues and keeping an eye on things that I've said in the media and he looked forward to working with me on these concerns. I could live with that, although it didn't say specifically, here's how we're going to tackle governance," he said. "On Sept. 18, I got a phone call. I phoned in because I found out from the Chiefs of Ontario that Bill C-19 was before he standing committee and there was nobody up there. I put in a call to Phil Fontaine's office, asking if he would speak before the standing committee and speak to the resolutions."
Paibomsai said Fontaine seemed to resent his questions.
"He phoned me back. And he said, 'Well, you've been following me around with all these letters on governance.' And I said, "'Well, that's the mandate the chiefs have given.' We disagreed there and it wasn't very pleasant. I didn't like the tone of the discussion," the Ontario chief said. "I didn't understand at the time what authority he has. Basically he has no inherent power. His power comes from the chiefs in assembly, so I'm justified in asking these questions of our national leader."
Six Nations Chief Roberta Jamieson finished second to Fontaine in July. She debated him all across the country and says she's surprised to hear that he's supporting the bill.
"Things like being in favor of C-19 and being in favor of C-6, I don't recall them being on the platform," she said. "If he's in favor of C-19, we have every reason to ask him to account because it's tantamount to saying 'I don't care what the chiefs say, this is what I'm doing.'"
Bloc Quebecois MP Yvon Lubien has been assisting the AFN on Parliament Hill, helping to fight against the governance legislation. He has been wondering aloud why he has been left fighting for Native rights as an opposition member without the support of the national chief.
Former Kamloops Indian band chief Manny Jules recently accepted the chief of staff position at the AFN.
Jules said the national chief made it clear that he would support C-19 on the campaign trial.
"He was very clear in terms of the pieces of legislation that he supported and those that he didn't support. He was clear throughout the campaign he didn't support and isn't going to support C-7. The whole question of C-19, he made it very clear... in the question and answer period in Edmonton, he made it very clear he supportedC-19. These issues were thoroughly debated right across the country."
"The national chief campaigned on a very clear agenda that he wanted to move forward. Ten points, ranging from housing, employment, economic development, education, languages, health, resource revenue sharing, jurisdiction, making the AFN relevant and accountable to the chiefs, and claims. We, since the transition, have developed budgets that easily exceed a billion dollars that is moving forward to the federal government. The intangibles that flow from that are literally billions of dollars," Manny Jules said.
"What we want to do is create a new economy, an economy that includes First Nations, because right now we're completely and virtually shut out of Canada's economy. If Canada continues to operate as it has been, on six cylinders as opposed to eight, it will continue to lag behind the other countries in terms of the UN index.
"Canada was number one for a number of years and now it's number eight. So without addressing First Nations' issues, Canada will not regain its number one status."
INAC sources say there has been a virtual blizzard of funding requests arriving from the AFN since July. Jules said proposed budgets for each of the 10-points in the plan have been formulated. A leaked AFN memo states that each plan has a budget of a least a million dollars. Many of the proposals would extend through several fiscal years.
"We need to restore the capacity of the assembly to do its national work so that the regions and also the communities can benefit from the hard work that's going to be necessary facilitating moving this huge agenda forward," Jules said.
Jules' comments revealed that the Fontaine team does feel it has the mandate to follow through on its plans without going back to the chiefs in assembly for permission.
"I truly feel that with the campaign that took place, a lot of it was based on the philosophical divide that is within the leadership of this country. The leadership pted for a pragmatic and practical approach to dealing with our issues. That's obviously where I'm at," he said.
On the new AFN agenda is a rejuvination of the organization and that rejuvination will begin with the establishment of a national chiefs commision, said Jules.
"This is going to involve regional think tanks, focus groups and policy forums. One of the first steps in that direction is going to be the special assembly in Vancouver so that the chiefs will be updated on the Getting Results Agenda," he explained.
"Even in terms of how the assembly itself gets involved in the budgetary cycle of the federal government has to change. There'll be a number of areas put forward and we want to be able to build in successful models, making sure that every region of this country is well represented. That means making the assembly relevant because you saw a dramatic turn down in terms of attendance at the assemblies. And in order to make the kinds of changes that the national chief campaigned on, was given a mandate to do, it's going to require in some cases a fundamental change of the assembly."
He said he could not provide details about the commission's timeframe or who its members would be, although some sources speculate that British Columbia Vice-chief Herb George may be named as the chairman.
Jules summed up the current administration's attitude about its mandate in no uncertain terms.
"The debate really is over. That was decided on July 16 in Edmonton. The national chief campaigned on a very ambitious agenda. We don't want to see a repeat of what happened in Halifax again," he said.
"At the same time, we all have to recognize that we are living in a democracy. So we want to ensure that there is a good debate so that there'll be a clearing of the air and we'll begin to arrive at a plan to take ourselves out of this quagmire of poverty that our people find themselves in."
- Community Access
- Contact Us
- Our History
- Archives Search
- In Depth
Share this with friendsPinterest
- The #IdleNoMore Movement
- Relationship between Canada's Justice System and Aboriginal People
- Indian Country Community Events Listings
- Play Radio Bingo to win!
- CFWE-FM Alberta Radio Network
- Buffalo Spirit Foundation
- Western Association of Aboriginal Broadcasters (WAAB)
- May Windspeaker - April 29
- May Raven's Eye - April 29
- May Saskatchewan Sage - April 29
- May Alberta Sweetgrass - May 13
- Download 2013 AMMSA media kits for:
* Sage - Raven's Eye - Birchbark
- Online advertising on www.ammsa.com.
Subscribe & Donate
- Order a Windspeaker digital subscription
- Order a Windspeaker print subscription
- Support independent, Indigenous media in Canada by making a donation via paypal