For the first time in the organization’s history, the Assembly of First Nations elected a female national chief Thursday.
RoseAnne Archibald, of the Taykwa Tagamou Nation in Ontario, secured victory in the 2021 election when her last remaining rival conceded after five rounds of voting.
While Archibald’s election is historic for the organization, it’s actually more of a return to form in a sense – with many First Nations matrilineal before colonialism.
“The matriarch is starting to take their place where they were hundreds of years ago,” says Lorraine Whitman, pesident of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
“They’re not staying silenced anymore.”
Whitman is excited, with the election results coming days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tagged Inuk leader Mary Simon as Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General.
“It’s inspirational,” she says.
In her speech Thursday night, Archibald thanked her supporters, as well as representatives who didn’t vote for her.
That would include the AFN Regional Chief for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, Roger Augustine, who backed various other candidates through the race.
Augustine initially backed candidate Kevin T. Hart, switching to back Reginald Bellerose when Hart was out.
Bellerose, conceding to Archibald in the end though neither received the necessary 60 per cent to win.
“One of the things I did hear the National Chief say is just how important it is to work together,” points out Augustine.
“If that’s the approach she’s going to take, we’re going to have a great three years.”
Augustine calls the election of the AFN’s first female national chief “very powerful.”
He says he’s worked with Archibald many times in his nine years as regional chief. “I think she’ll do a great job,” he says.
Augustine says his first call with the newly elected Archibald is tentatively scheduled for Monday.
He looks forward to the potential progress to be made in a contentious time across Indigenous communities.
“We have a long ways to go,” he says. “It’s going to take a long time to change a lot of the things that are a bit of an issue right now.”
Those sentiments were also expressed by Whitman, who says she believes Archibald has come into the role at the perfect time – despite high emotions and ongoing grief.
“She can speak on that because it’s in her heart,” says Whitman.
“And that’s what we need.
“We need more compassion and love because there’s too much negativity in life.”
“As you know, we’ve had a dark chapter as Indigenous People and we need to set those wrongs right.”