First Nations leaders from across Canada gather in Montreal for AFN annual general assembly

Delegates from hundreds of First Nations are meeting on Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) territory this week to discuss priorities.

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN), a national advocacy organization for more than 630 First Nations, kicks off its 45th annual general assembly at Montreal's Palais des congrès on Tuesday under the theme of "Strengthening our Relations."

"As the theme calls for, how can we manage to reinforce our own relations? That's really what's on everybody's mind," said Ghislain Picard, regional chief for Quebec-Labrador, who sits on the AFN's executive committee.

"I think everybody is really looking for ways to strengthen those ties and sort of turn the page on the RoseAnne Archibald era and try to reinforce or reconstruct that relationship at a First Nations level."

Quebec and Labrador regional chief Ghislain Picard leads the policing file for the AFN.
Quebec and Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard at the AFN's annual general assembly in Vancouver in 2022. Picard leads the policing file for the AFN. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Last year, the organization was in turmoil with its leadership. Archibald was removed from her role as national chief last June by chiefs during a special virtual meeting in response to two outside probes that concluded she had harassed AFN staff.

"Our strength lies in our unity, in the collective wisdom and determination of our communities," Cody Diabo, grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke, told the assembly Tuesday in his host address.

"By working together we can continue to fight for our rights and jurisdiction, ensuring that our voices are heard and our interests are protected."

This year's gathering includes a lengthy agenda with presentations on First Nations policing, specific claims, charter renewal, the First Nations Clean Water Act, as well as updates on the status on long-term reform to the First Nations Child and Family Services program and Jordan's Principle.

Cody Diabo is the grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke.
Cody Diabo is the grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

On Tuesday, the chiefs in assembly passed resolutions addressing issues like national chief election voting deadlocks, quorum and attendance at assemblies, financial security for AFN regional offices, support for the organization's 2SLGBTQ council, and establishing an accessibility and disability advisory council.

There was an emergency resolution adopted agreeing that an audit of AFN's financial and management policies — a resolution adopted in 2022 — is not warranted and should not be undertaken.

"It's time for us to close this chapter on this forensic audit and move forward," said Dylan Whiteduck, chief of Kitigan Zibi, on the assembly floor.

Minister addresses policing

First Nations have long been calling for the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program, which funds police services in communities, to be recognized as an essential service. National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak said policing is one of her priorities and that she invited Public Safety Minister Dominic Leblanc to address the assembly to discuss it.

"We recognize and acknowledge that there's a lot of work that still needs to be done," LeBlanc told the assembly Tuesday, in terms of funding and the way the program functions.

"We want to work with you to find lasting and equitable solutions to the public safety challenges your communities face."

Justice Minister Arif Virani also addressed the assembly Tuesday. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree, Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh are also expected to address the assembly later this week.

The last time the AFN held an assembly in Montreal was in 2015.

"To have it here in Tiohtià:ke, in our territory … it gives us a chance to attend and hopefully make a presence and have our voices heard," said Victor Bonspille, grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake.

Bonspille said he is looking forward to discussing First Nations policing and a resolution addressing cannabis sales and community safety.

The AFN holds assemblies twice a year. Woodhouse Nepinak said this year there will be a special assembly focused on child welfare that will take place in Winnipeg Sept. 17-19.

"It's urgent. I think that's what we're hearing," said Woodhouse Nepinak.

"Making sure that First Nations are now in the driver's seat rather than provinces, I think that that's the way that we have to go, but we have to talk about it as a people, and we've never dedicated time like we will in September."

The annual general assembly continues until July 11.