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Government Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation

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

July 9, 2024

Assembly’s theme is ‘Strengthening our Relations’

AFN sign
Assembly of First Nations signage is seen during the second day of the Special Chiefs Assembly (SCA) in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)

CBC News: 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.”

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.

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)

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.

The agenda also includes an update on an audit of AFN’s financial and management policies.

Record resolutions

Picard said there’s a record number of resolutions on the agenda, more than 75.

“At the same time, we want to leave time on the agenda to be able to sort of prioritize some issues more than others,” he said.  

“The issue of policing is a big piece.”

A woman wearing a headress
AFN National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in April in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

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.

“I know there’s been a lot of work done to date but I know that we need some political commitment,” she said.

Justice Minister Arif Virani and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree will also speak. Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh are also expected to address the assembly 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.


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer, Journalist

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.