In her first phone call with the prime minister since becoming the national chief of the Assembly First Nations, RoseAnne Archibald said that they will examine every former residential school in Canada.
“We have residential school survivors who are still suffering, their children are suffering, their grandchildren are suffering,” said Archibald, who earlier this week became the first female chief to lead the group in charge of being the voice of more than 600 First Nations across Canada.
According to Archibald, she asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for enough resources to “look for our children.”
“These are crimes against children, these are crimes against humanity, this is genocide, we are all on the same page here in Canada, so the federal government has to assist us to create that healing path forward,” she said.
Speaking with Global News on Saturday, Archibald delved deeper into her major priorities as the AFN’s incoming national chief.
Among them was not only an urgency to uncover all the unmarked burial sites in Canada’s residential schools, but to also find ways to heal the trauma that Indigenous peoples have experienced for generations.
“Our whole communities, all of our communities, our whole nations have been affected negatively by colonialism,” she said.
Archibald calls for more additional supports like the Aboriginal Healing Foundation that could help survivors continue on their healing journey.
Among her other pledges include holding the government more accountable, promising a focus within the next 100 days to double-down on unmarked burial sites at residential schools and on the national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Archibald’s rise to the top spot has brought a wave of optimism from Indigenous communities.
She was elected Thursday after her last remaining rival, Saskatchewan’s Reginald Bellerose, conceded following five rounds of voting.
Her rise as the first woman to lead the advocacy group is among many several firsts Archibald has notched prior to being elected.
She was the first woman and youngest chief to ever be elected in Ontario’s Taykwa Tagamou Nation in 1990, and was the first woman to be the Deputy Grand Chief of the Nishwabe-Aski Nation.
In 2018, Archibald had become the first woman to be elected as Ontario Regional Chief.
Her campaign pledge for national chief of the AFN had included a post-pandemic recovery plan for First Nations, and more inclusivity and transparency for marginalized groups in AFN’s affairs.
Archibald’s election also comes amid another Indigenous woman’s rise to a top political position.
On Tuesday, Mary Simon, an Inuk woman from Kangiqsualujjuaq in Quebec, was chosen as the first Indigenous person to serve as Canada’s Governor General — a position politically second only to the Queen herself in all of Canada.
Lorraine Whitman, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, told Global News that Archibald’s election was a return to form for many First Nations who were matrilineal before colonialism.
“The matriarch is starting to take their place where they were hundreds of years ago,” Whitman said.
“They’re not staying silenced anymore.”
Archibald has previously noted the obstacles female politicians face, and how they can often discourage them from seeking higher office.
“It’s important that 80 per cent of the chiefs across Canada are men and they elected me. And that, to me, speaks to the change that is happening: that our brothers understand the importance of creating space.”
Archibald, who was elected national chief of the Assembly of First Nations on Thursday, now faces controversy over a report on an investigation into allegations that she harassed staff members while she was a regional chief.
The confidential May 3 report, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, examines Ms. Archibald’s behaviour towards staff when she was the AFN’s Regional Ontario Chief three years ago.
The report, by investigator Bryna Hatt, says there were a total of 10 potential complainants. Three did not participate in the investigation. Of those who did participate, none were willing to identify themselves during the process in order to lodge formal grievances. The report does not detail the allegations or draw conclusions about whether or not they are true.
Speaking to Global News, Archibald addressed claims of harassment against her earlier this year during her time as regional chief, which prompted an internal investigation by the AFN.
While she wasn’t able to speak directly on the results of a confidential report in May, Archibald said the recent focus on the harassment allegations was an example of the difficulty of being the first woman national chief or first woman in such a high profile position.
“I want to say, first of all, that in the 31 years that I have been involved in politics, I never once had a single complaint against me, not when I was a chief,” she said.
“But I have been a victim of workplace harassment myself and I know what that feels like and I want to just let everyone know that I’m committed to creating safe spaces for people, workplaces where people feel and embrace and love and care for.”
— With files from the Canadian Press and Travis Fortnum