Assembly of First Nations Election 2012 – What Happens Next?

AFN ELECTION 2012 As I stated in my previous blog, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is having their annual general meeting this July 17-19 in Toronto. This year’s assembly is particularly important because Shawn Atleo’s term as National Chief is up for election. Usually by this time of year, people are talking about the candidates and whose platform may win the day. However, this year candidates appear to be few and far between. Perhaps it is a little too early to tell, since technically the electoral officer – Loretta Pete Lambert – was only just appointed and nominations only open May 23rd and they officially close June 12. Contrary to popular belief, one need not be a chief to run for the position of National Chief. The criteria for eligibility is found in the AFN Charter in “Appendix A”: In order to be eligible to run for National Chief, the candidate must meet the following: (1) be at least 18 years old; (2) be of First Nations ancestry; (3) belongs to a specified First Nation community that is in good standing as a member of the AFN. The nomination form for the candidate must include the signatures of 15 Chiefs of First Nations, but at least 8 of those Chiefs must be from a province or territory other than that from which the candidate comes. So take me for example and pretend I wanted to run for National Chief. I am above 18 (just barely), I am Mi’kmaw, and I am a member of Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. So, although I am not currently a Chief, I would technically be eligible to be nominated for National Chief. The next issue would be one of nominations. Although I now live and work in Ontario, the Charter speaks to the province from which I originate – i.e., New Brunswick. Thus, at least 8 of the 15 Chiefs who would support my nomination would have to be from outside of New Brunswick. REALITIES OF RUNNING While these are the technical issues, there are other issues which must be considered – like the funding needed to travel the country to campaign. I have heard from those involved in previous elections that the costs for travel can range anywhere from $75,000 to $200,000 depending on when you start campaigning, how many trips you make and where your regional focus lies. This is a critical issue for anyone but the current incumbent (person who holds the position). The current National Chief can, as he travels the country for “work”, also campaign. His travel is funded by the AFN already, whereas those running against him must adhere to the campaign expense limit of $35,000.00 contained in the AFN Charter. Each candidate must submit a list of expenditures and could be disqualified from running if they fail to do so. If the actual costs are $75,000 and the campaign spending limit is $35,000 this leaves the candidates in a tough financial position. Poor candidates need not apply, unless they have financial backing from others and even then their campaigning is limited. A candidate could also be disqualified from running is if she or he does not participate in the All-Candidates Open Forum the night before the election. After that, the assembly must keep voting until one candidate reaches the 60% voter support threshold. Usually the candidate with the lowest vote count is dropped from the ballot and the vote is taken again. As a result, this may require multiple ballots until the threshold is made. The other reality of running in an AFN election is the dirty politics played by the federal government behind the scenes. Individual First Nation communities know all too well how Indian Affairs (INAC) gets involved in elections, favours candidates and tries to influence outcomes. Those candidates that play ball, get rewarded – those that don’t sometimes find themselves out before the election is even over. By all accounts, the same can be said of AFN elections. PLATFORMS The most important part of the process however is the actual platform upon which each candidate runs. This platform, while general in nature, should be detailed enough to communicate the specific vision or goal of the candidate and how she or he plans to realize that goal or vision. This way, the electors – i.e., the chiefs, can decide (in consultation with their citizens) which plan best suits their communities and Nations. In my previous blog, I provided my thoughts on Atleo’s tenure as national chief and his ideas about where we should be headed. It is no secret that I think Atleo’s path is by far one of most dangerous one ever proposed by a national chief. The fact that it is endorsed by the most right-wing government in recent years is also cause for concern. I honestly believe that the current “Joint Action Plan” between Canada and Atleo-led AFN appears is a formula for assimilation. I realize that Atleo came in as NC at one of the worst times politically, and that the job itself is beyond difficult. I also know that there are funding pressures and that resistance to the federal agenda can and does result in funding cuts. I also know that working together in partnership is in keeping with the spirit of the treaties. That being said, simply giving in to Harper’s Conservatives will not make any gains for us – politically, legally or otherwise. Rolling over while they impose legislation on us against our will is not the relationship envisioned by the treaties. Ignoring our treaty right to education which was negotiated to ensure our prosperity is a gross violation of even Canada’s laws. We need a change. But the change we need is drastic, it’s hard, it will require significant sustained effort and will not produce flashy results. Saving our Indigenous languages for example, takes time, effort and commitment – but within those languages are our entire education systems, governance systems and laws. It is critical to our identities, cultures and spirituality – yet many only give lip service to it. Making a commitment to protecting our lands means not always buying into the mantra that the only “good” lands are “developed” lands – like those lands that are dead or dying from irreversible damage. Sometimes the temporary jobs and short-term funds are not worth the long-term damage. Protecting our people means we care enough to bring out our warriors to stop violence against our murdered and missing women and to stop the theft of our children by provincial agencies. We have to find a way to forgive ourselves for the effects of colonization and protect those Indigenous women and children who were excluded from their communities because of federal laws and policies. If we cannot be the soft place to fall for our people, no one will be. The only platform that should count is the one that reflects the voices of the people, the one that lives up to the sacrifices of our ancestors and the one that lives up to our responsibilities to our future generations. Any platform drafted to “appeal” to governments, “attract” corporations, to “speak” to other politicians, or ensure a political “win” will never be what is in the best interests of our people. We need to take a stand against genocide and assimilation against our peoples and empower our grassroots people again. Our issues need to be front and centre. We need to bring attention to the crisis in many of our Nations. It’s time to push back hard. The current situation of a potentially unchallenged AFN election is enough to make me want to run for National Chief – not for the “position”, but for the people. The hearts of our women are not on the ground yet – we have the power to help bring back balance to our Nations. We can do anything and change anything we want to – regardless of the size or power of those who wish to eliminate us. Our children need to be reminded that we are a strong, resilient people and we can do this. We just have to be willing to risk losing what Canada holds over us in order to protect what is really important – which is not an office in Ottawa, its our land, people and culture.


  1. Well said Pam. Kudos to you for speaking out on such important subjects, and thank you for parsing through so much information and summarizing it for us. I hope you do run for AFN National Chief.

  2. Pamela,

    You are a bright light of hope in an otherwise murky offering of leadership. That said, I also believe regardless of your potential competition you outshine on your own merit and not in contrast to anyone else.

    If I may pinpoint a particular issue that confounds me… I very much want to see a candidate at the national level that will speak on the issue of internalized violence against our Elders, women and children. There is often talk of warriors, but until our Elders, women and children are safe within our own Nations I fear we will not be as strong as we should be in order to effect growth and change.

    That is my rant as a Dene woman and mother.

    You have my unwavering support as always.


    Aleta-Jo Bird

  3. I want to run for National Chief.
    This is my platform:
    1. The first thing I want to do is change the name of our national political organization to the "Assembly of Indian Bands".
    2. Secondly, I want to organize the 633 Indian Bands in Canada back into the 66 or so indigenous Nations we represent. This is where our identity lies: it's inherent in our languages, territories, and traditional systems of governance, etc. etc.
    3. That accomplished, I want to then change the name of our political organization back to the Assembly of First Nations where 66 National Chiefs and I will work to create the Nation – to – Nation relationship based on our priorities while the Chiefs of our communities work to create safe and sustainable communities. Simultaneously, the National Chiefs and I would learn what the word "priorities" means.
    4. We would select the Assembly of First Nations spokesman, the President/Chairman of the AFN, by consensus among the 66 chiefs.

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