Letter: A lesson in the history of Indigenous governance for the new leader

Where lies the Aundeck Omni Kaning governance vote

To the Expositor:

On December 8 and 9, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) held its 41st annual general assembly by virtual broadcast for the first time because of the pandemic. The recent announcement by Perry Bellegarde, the current national chief to not seek re-election has set in motion the process for the election of a new national chief to be carried out in July 2021. 

As AFN begins to see change management and restructuring being done to its charter, the origins of AFN began with the development of The North American Indian Brotherhood, founded in 1940, and appropriated as a lobby group. It was dissolved in the 1950s and replaced by the National Indian Council in 1961, with further changeover, it became the National Indian Brotherhood in 1968 and finally becoming the Assembly of First Nations in 1982. The AFN represents 633 First Nations in Canada and its core executive branch is made up of representatives from each of the provinces and territories in Canada.

At the provincial level in Ontario, the political body of the Chiefs of Ontario was formed in 1975 and represents 133 First Nations, and provides advocacy as a political confederacy and secretariat. The Ontario regional chief has a seat on the executive branch of AFN as directed for in its charter, and at present, the current Ontario regional chief carries portfolios in housing, infrastructure, water, women’s council and education (K-12) and reports annually at AFN assemblies.

On a regional level, there are four regional areas commonly referred to as “political territorial organizations,” which include the Union of Ontario Indians (UOI), Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), AIAI and Six Nations. Each is represented by an executive council, a grand council chief, deputy grand chiefs with portfolio holder positions. Six Nations is uniquely different in that it follows Mohawk traditional style of governance of the Iroquois Confederacy. Historically, before changing its name to Anishinabek Nation, the Union of Ontario Indians (UOI) became an incorporated body in 1949, it had two distinct functions: 1) political advocacy and 2) secretariat. Prior to 1949, it was known as the Grand General Indian Council of Ontario and can trace its ties back to the Three Fires Confederacy.

At the tribal council level, “Tribal councils are non-political entities that provide technical services to a group of First Nation communities. Tribal councils have no independent status: they draw their powers entirely from their member communities,” as termed by the Chiefs of Ontario glossary.

While much emphasis has been placed on aboriginal political organizations and structures, we must be mindful that is the First Nations people who carry the power of our nations, who are independent, uniquely different and are the backbone of this country. In earlier times, many followed a hereditary style of governance structure, governed as autonomous sovereign nations with inherent rights to the land, with sacred spiritual, cultural beliefs, sacred under natural law. I would remind the reader that without First Nations and its people, none of those organizations would exist. This is the understanding that has been gifted to us by our past and will be the driving force into the future for generations to come.

So, whomever is chosen to be the next AFN national chief next year, let he/she build upon what Mr. Bellegarde has done over the last six years.

By the way, I’ve yet to hear any public statement from AOK chief and council as to what their intentions are with respect to the previous governance vote held in February 2020 or my letter of June 8, 2019. Perhaps the chief wants to avoid giving answers to straight forward questions or give out any information to me or the community about last year’s vote, where the community voted against ANGA. So, with that, please stay safe, keep your distance, happy holidays and see you in the new year.

Yours truly,

Donald J. McGraw

M’Kwaa Dodem

Aundegomniikaaning First Nation