Despite some efforts to limit her participation, National Chief RoseAnne Archibald led the grand procession to the annual general meeting of the Assembly of First Nations on Tuesday.
She wore insignia and carried the eagle staff, her sacred responsibility as national chief, and elders, veterans, chiefs and delegates followed her into the ballroom of the Vancouver Convention Center.
“I’m the kind of leader that, when difficult circumstances arise, I actually get stronger,” he told reporters before the procession.
“I don’t think it will be a difficult day, it will just be a day of revealing the truth, and the truth is something that is never difficult to talk about.”
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Archibald was suspended this month by the AFN executive committee and its national board of directors pending the results of an investigation into workplace complaints by four members of her staff.
The day before, Archibald had publicly called for a forensic audit and independent investigation into the alleged corruption and “toxicity” of the assembly. His allegations violated the organization’s whistleblower policy and code of conduct, and his oath of office, according to the executive committee.
Archibald has claimed that the four employees who filed complaints against her wanted more than $1 million in payments, which she refused to provide.
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Since the controversy began in the middle of the month, the national chief has been banned from participating in the annual general meeting, allowed to participate, had parts of the agenda removed, and then put back.
Before Tuesday’s grand procession, a small rally was held outside the Vancouver Convention Center to support her and condemn what she described as efforts to “silence” her.
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Squamish Nation’s Donna Cole played drums with the group, and having regularly attended the AFN meeting in the past, said she is not surprised by the assembly executive’s “bypass tactics”.
“We saw firsthand, we witnessed the misogyny, the cover-ups, the lack of transparency, and now that we have our first female national boss, it feels so much more personal,” she told Global News.
“So we can’t let her go through this alone, she needs support, we need to support her.”
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At that rally, Archibald reiterated his concerns, citing corruption, financial irregularities in the AFN, and a culture of “underground dealings.” He urged the bosses and proxies who attended the general assembly, more than 440 in all, to “withdraw” the executive week meetings.
“I know the truth will resonate with our bosses,” he said. “The truth will be told and the truth will be recognized by the bosses and they will act in a good way that is in the best interest of the people, not in the best interest of the executive regional heads of AFN.”
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When asked about the controversy, AFN Northwest Territories regional head Gerald Antoine said it’s important that everything is “put on the table” at the annual general meeting.
“We all need to give ourselves time and space to share, not only that, but also to see what the racket is and see how we can come together, understand the situation and frame the steps to follow,” he told Global News.
He stopped short of supporting Archibald’s calls for a financial audit, saying it’s important to consider “evaluating what we’re doing.”
“I think this is a family gathering and a time to talk to each other in a good way.”
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More than 2,400 delegates have registered for the annual general meeting, which will take place from July 5 to 7 under the theme “Traveling the path of healing.”
In opening remarks Tuesday, speakers including Archibald focused on that message.
“I am here today to welcome you and let you know that I love and care for each one of you in this room,” he said. “This meeting is a historic meeting. I know we can get through this in a good way together.”
Country of the Squamish Nation. Khelsilem, who welcomed the participants to the territory, thanked Archibald and others for taking time out of their daily lives to work for future generations.
Archibald is expected to speak again before delegates on Tuesday.
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