Roseanne Archibald speaking behind podium
Now-former AFN National Chief Roseanne Archibald. Credit: Assembly of First Nations / Facebook Credit: Assembly of First Nations / Facebook

Prompted by the ousting of the now former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), RoseAnne Archibald, on June 28, 2023, at a virtual Special Chiefs Assembly, we are compelled by the events of the last few days. 

The Special Assembly was called to address the findings of a human resource investigation into complaints against Archibald. It ended with her being removed from her position. A minority of eligible Chiefs attended the meeting, of which, a majority voted for her removal. Presented now with a newly appointed interim National Chief Joanna Bernard, we are still grappling with the sudden and shocking ousting. 

Many of us had been pressing the AFN to reverse course on this. We were focused on trying to steer the AFN toward good Indigenous governance and leadership practices with a humble but stalwart online petition. Presented for “status Indians” to consider, as the AFN is a “status Indian” organization, the petition obtained 427 signatures. 

Regional Chiefs were notified by email of the petition on July 7, 2023, with a final submission being sent at 8:46 a.m. AST on July 11. They were asked to circulate the petition to Chiefs and Councils. We do not know if they did this. 

Presumably, the Regional Chiefs knew First Nation status members were petitioning to have the duly-elected National Chief reinstated, to have a previous resolution to support her leadership from the June 28 assembly brought forth, and to ensure Indigenous best practices were being employed in internal human resource matters.

Reading Archibald’s statement posted to her professional Facebook page on June 10 about the appointment of an interim National Chief, we can’t help but wonder if a major reason for removing Archibald was to squash her repeated call for a forensic financial audit of AFN. Interim National Chief Joanna Bernard has assured First Nations-in-Assembly that annual reports have been reviewed and there are no concerns.  

The AFN seems to be playing with semantics, supplanting “forensic audit” with “audited financial statements.” 

Let’s be clear: a forensic audit is not a financial audit. The former investigates fraud or illegality; the latter is an annual review of finances. Apparently, in one of her first acts of leadership, Bernard means to have Chiefs and the public believe they are the same. 

Further, we have witnessed the AFN’s refusal to consider resolutions that would address a significant wish to reinstate the former National Chief, and the swift acceptance of the existing agenda at the AFN’s meeting on July 11, 2023 – this fuels already robust speculation of the AFN’s political competence, relevance, and treatment of the former National Chief.  

As Ojibwe and Ktunaxa women respectively, and Indigenous feminist scholars, we understand how different circuits of power work, including in Indigenous organizations funded by the settler state. It hurts to witness the regalia in the AFN’s annual general assembly, especially as it obscures the spiritually inspired, highly principled governance that we know is there.

It’s unsettling to see our people carry on at the assembly as though nothing is wrong, as though nothing cataclysmic has happened. It’s worrisome to see our young leaders being socialized to do politics thusly. Is this trauma? Internalized colonization? We don’t know what it signals, but it feels like gaslighting and a failure. We know we would not want the young people in our lives to be mentored and trained in Indigenous leadership in this way. 

The politics that deposed RoseAnne Archibald in such a miserable fashion, for such opaque reasons, are embarrassing. This is not who we are collectively as Indigenous peoples who are the living legacy of our ancestors. It’s not how to behave, when we have inherited sophisticated methods of governance, laws, and healing from those who came before us and when we have the self-determining capability to create new ways that transcend those presented by the state. 

This is not how we are to treat each other.

Archibald’s experience is not how we demonstrate respect for Indigenous women. It’s not how we are to behave in private and most definitely not on the public stage. The AFN leadership knows that across our nations, our people are fighting to find and acknowledge missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse peoples. Yet, through their actions, the AFN is endorsing the poor treatment of all Indigenous women by treating the former National Chief the way they have.

But then again, maybe this is who we have become, here in this place called Canada – this place that corralled us onto reserves under an Indian Act while at the same time signing treaties full of broken promises. This place that harnesses us with its laws and by-laws, budgets and bureaucratic expectations, its “rules of procedure”.  

These cages are meant to keep us under the control of the state; they are meant to discipline, assimilate, or extinguish us and our authentic power

Making Indigenous women go missing from their highly visible political roles is what happens when Indigenous women refuse to accommodate colonial power or abandon their principles. 

Jody Wilson-Raybould entered the political arena and navigated similarly treacherous paths in a way that unabashedly stood upon and foregrounded Indigenous values, laws, and governance.  These principles were meaningful to many Indigenous peoples and Canadians. She was subjected to the fiercest political scrutiny an Indigenous woman has faced in Canada. She made us proud; she makes us proud. 

We feel similarly about Archibald. The two political spheres they navigated are different, but their practices look the same and both have produced  the same result.  

The AFN is intimately tied to the federal government and has been since it was the National Indian Brotherhood. AFN National and Regional Chiefs are savvy about the positions, institutions, and systems of Canadian power. Perhaps AFN has adopted the unpleasant politics of the settler state as its own. 

We wait for Canada to reject colonialism and embark on relationships with Indigenous peoples on a nations-to-nation basis where it can respect Indigenous governance orders that uphold Indigenous leaders regardless of gender. 

We wait for a Canada that can work effectively with the Jody Wilson-Rayboulds, RoseAnne Archibalds, Cindy Blackstocks, Ellen Gabriels, and Molly Wickhams of the world for the creation of a new Canada. 

We want Indigenous organizations that can work with them as well.  

While we wait, we continue to seek and expect transformative politics. We, and many, many others, petition. We petition creation and our own spirits; our kin and communities; we petition the teachings of the past, present, and future; and we petition authentic principled Indigenous leaders to keep the embers of our nations on our lands and waters glowing despite the overbearing oppression of the ugly politics still in play. 

This is good Indigenous governance, and it begins within each of us. 

For information or confirmation, contact:

waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy, Ph.D. (Anishinaabe Nation, Lac Seul First Nation)

Associate Professor, Gender Studies, University of Victoria 

[email protected] 

Joyce Green, Ph.D. (Ktunaxa Nation, Yaqit  ʔa·knuqⱡiʔit  First Nation)

Professor Emerita, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Regina [email protected] 

The public version of the “Petition to Reinstate the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations” can be accessed at:

waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy Ph.D

Associate Professor, Gender Studies, University of Victoria

Joyce Green, Ph.D

Professor Emerita, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Regina.