Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included a quote in the headline that was not clearly attributed to Chief Rosanne Archibald. Global News has now updated the headline and made Archibald’s quote in the story clear.
A majority of First Nations chiefs in Canada have voted against the suspension of Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald.
The resolution at the AFN’s annual general assembly on Tuesday proposed her suspension with pay continue, pending the results of a human resources investigation into staff complaints against her.
More than 60 per cent of chiefs and proxies rejected it.
Some speakers cited a lack of evidence against Archibald, support for her calls for a forensic audit, and a desire for unity so First Nations can prioritize other, more urgent matters affecting their communities.
“I want to thank everyone for all your comments and for striking down this unlawful suspension that happened. I welcome the comments about burying the hatchet. I welcome the comments about forgiveness,” said Archibald, responding to the results.
The national chief said she is “100 per cent” committed to meeting with AFN’s executive committee to work through their differences, but will need her phone back and her email access reinstated first.
Earlier this month, the AFN executive committee and national board of directors suspended Archibald as an investigation into workplace harassment complaints against her by four staff got underway.
It was one day after Archibald had publicly called for a forensic audit and independent inquiry into the assembly’s alleged corruption, claiming the four staff had requested more than $1 million in payouts, which she refused to provide.
According to a July 4 briefing note given to AFN’s executive committee, Archibald was made aware of the complaints against her before she went public with what the note describes as “confidential” information and “unfounded” allegations.
Archibald’s lawyers and the executive’s lawyers are at odds as to whether her suspension is legal and within the power of the executive, given that she is elected by hundreds of chiefs across Canada.
Chiefs and proxies were given an extended lunch hour and an additional recess on Tuesday to consider three resolutions: Archibald’s continued suspension while a human resources investigation takes place; her removal through a non-confidence vote; and her full reinstatement to duties as national chief with the initiation of a forensic audit and independent workplace toxicity investigation.
They will vote on the latter two resolutions on Wednesday morning.
Earlier in the day, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland-area AFN Regional Chief Paul Prosper endorsed Archibald’s continued suspension, decrying her public comments both before and after her suspension.
Nevertheless, he expressed “tremendous love and respect” for Archibald, and said the executive committee would support a forensic audit if it is welcomed by the chiefs.
“No organization is perfect, not one,” he said. “We all face our own unique challenges, and yes, as an organization we can improve and we must improve.
“But I ask you, what would you do in light of this situation? What would you do if you sat, as many of you do as a board member, faced with these challenges within your family?”
Speaking after Prosper, New Brunswick AFN Regional Chief Joanna Bernard also expressed concern with Archibald’s public disclosures, including a list of contractors the AFN has worked with and the value of their contracts.
“These people’s businesses are in jeopardy here, they’re being accused of corruption,” she said.
“We have taken this seriously as an organization … if the AFN is to continue as a useful organization, the national chief has been making this impossible.”
Bernard said Archibald’s actions are also hindering the fair workplace investigation process triggered as a result of the complaints against her.
Archibald has called on chiefs at the general assembly to support her in creating a revitalized AFN and a new accompanying financial corporation based not on colonial law, but the Seven Sacred Teachings of First Nations people.
In formal remarks before the suspension vote, she said the AFN executive committee had “usurped” the authority of chiefs across the country in suspending her and trying to influence their decision-making on the matter. Corruption within the AFN is “one of the most widely known secrets in Indian country,” she alleged, asking the chiefs to stand with her in her “positive vision for the future.”
Her comments were greeted by applause and whistles from the crowd.
Speaking against the suspension, Yaqan Nukiy proxy Cheryl Casimir of the Ktunaxa Nation in B.C. said the resolution implied Archibald was guilty and needed to be proven innocent, rather than the reverse.
“It’s my belief that there have been wrongs made on both sides in this situation,” she told delegates. “There needs to be ownership and recognition of those wrongs and there needs to be apologies made for those wrongs in order to heal.”
Doug Kelly, proxy for the Kwaw-kwaw-Apilt First Nation in B.C., called on chiefs from across the country to look inward as they cast their votes.
“We spend a lot of time talking about truth and reconciliation, but we’re always pointing the finger at the federal government or the churches and provincial government,” he said. “We’re at a time now where we need to look at some hard truths and we have to reconcile.”
Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc Kúkpi Rosanne Casimir said she endorsed the continued suspension with a “major, major heavy heart,” but a confidential human resources investigation that protects employees is critical, and all leaders must follow a specific set of rules.
“To me, this is embarrassing right across nationally and seeing this in the news,” she said. “When I look at the importance of truth and reconciliation, this has no room for that in the media.”
Chief Ira McArthur of the Pheasant Rump Nakota First Nation in Saskatchewan seconded the motion after Casimir, saying the assembly must not air its “dirty laundry” in the media.
“I know from best practices from all of our First Nations we always have a separation of politics from administration and we have staff that manage these issues,” he explained. “We have a lot of business that’s pending with the government out there and we need to be able to focus on those matters.”
The AFN is still verifying the final vote count for, and against, Archibald’s suspension.