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AFN Special Chiefs Assembly

The Special Chiefs Assembly of the Assembly of First Nations took place in Winnipeg, MB, Dec. 9-11, 2014, and MFNERC was there as part of the trade show, and to observe the discussions on education. The three-day event gave opportunity for First Nations leadership to, first of all, convene and vote for a new National Chief. They also met to discuss a variety of fundamental issues and proposed resolutions. Topics included ending violence against Indigenous women, treaty right to housing, resource equity sharing and, of course, First Nations control of First Nations education. Rather than simply list different things that took place during the Assembly, here are two differing quotes on the First Nations education resolution. While the Chiefs were discussing the resolution, the overall feelings seemed to be frustration with the current state of things, coupled with a true desire for change. Most of the Chiefs supported the resolution, some opposed, and in the end it passed.

Chief Walter Naveau, Mattagami First Nation: “When I was thinking about this resolution I thought back to 1969 when Jean Chretien was Minister of Indian Affairs and action took place from the federal government at the time to do away with aboriginal rights, to force First Nations into mainstream society. Prior to that, our organizations across the country would not agree on anything. A young man from Alberta started a counter activity, what he loosely called the “Red Paper” and we all got on board. We raised the idea that we wanted to retain our aboriginal rights, treaty rights and how we view ourselves. This morning I thought back that far to look at a document that calls for the same kind of commitment. Right now what’s needed from the Chiefs is support for an activity and an idea that is a starting block, this is what it’s about. I move this motion with those thoughts in mind.”

Chiefs waiting to speak during the discussions on education

Chief Beardy, Muskrat Dam First Nation: “The way the federal government does what they propose, they will gradually put it in their own terms, not under our terms. So I would like to oppose this resolution. It will be like going back to the era of residential schools and we will be controlled in due time. And we will lose control of our First Nations education systems. So I urge you to think about this resolution and not go forward with it just because of the money. Vote against it. Let us come up with another alternative.”

On the second day of the Assembly, Perry Belegarde was elected as the new National Chief. And, most certainly, he has a substantial job to tackle as the AFN moves forward. But as Chief Bellegarde himself states, “I have always been about getting things done and effecting change, and now I am going to do it on a national level.”