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AFN head defends against removal, says opponents ‘behaving like Indian agents’

RoseAnne Archibald, the first female Assembly of First Nations (AFN) national chief, is accusing her regional chiefs of hypocrisy, misogyny and “behaving like Indian Agents,” as they recommend her removal for the second time in a year, documents obtained by CBC News reveal.

The Cree leader from Ontario has mounted her political offensive following a June 14 AFN executive committee meeting that included bursts of bitter squabbling, according to recordings also obtained by CBC News.

After the meeting, Archibald circulated a batch of confidential communiqués to the chiefs-in-assembly, blasting what she alleges is “a pattern of unfairness, unco-operativeness, stonewalling and outright denial of justice” by the regional leaders.

“The silencing, shutting out, and marginalization of the highest profile First Nations woman leader is a dangerous and frightening precedent for First Nations women everywhere to witness,” she said in an email to the chiefs.

All documents and recordings that were leaked to CBC News were independently verified by multiple sources.

The AFN, a federally funded First Nations advocacy organization, has been embroiled in a leadership dispute and internal controversy since at least late 2020.

Its executive committee — consisting of the national chief and regional chiefs — met on June 14 to set the agenda for this week’s closed-door assembly concerning a probe into Archibald’s conduct.

The probe found Archibald harassed two staffers and retaliated against five, says a confidential summary report by law firm Emond Harnden. After that, the executive voted 10-0 to denounce Archibald and recommend her removal. Archibald countered with a rebuttal, calling the investigation a distraction from her push to root out alleged corruption.

The regional chiefs either did not reply to emailed interview requests or said they were unable to comment, pointing to the 2022 AFN resolution directing the executive to “refrain from making any public comments to the media” about the matter.

However, in a June 13 letter to Archibald, Nova Scotia Regional Chief Paul Prosper told her she is “risking legal claims and significant legal costs” that “could spell financial ruin for the organization.”

National and Ontario leaders bicker

Archibald’s latest dispatches are addressed to the First Nations-in-assembly and include a personal complaint against Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare, four chronologies of internal events from her perspective and a summary memo.

The complaint against Hare, dated June 14, is addressed to chiefs in Ontario and suggests the leaders, both multi-decade political veterans, were already at loggerheads for months.

In what the complaint alleges was the latest in a string of conflicts, Archibald said that Hare “mocked and laughed at me while interrupting me and speaking over me” at the June 14 meeting.

A spokesperson in Hare’s office said he was unable to give interviews or supply a statement as a confidential internal process has been initiated connected to the complaint. Its allegations are unproven.

A recording of the exchange, of which CBC News obtained three versions, shows mutual bickering as both Hare and Archibald interrupt each other.

A politician speaks at a podium.
Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare, who is also head of the Chiefs of Ontario, is shown at the AFN assembly in Ottawa in April. (Assembly of First Nations/Facebook)

The video begins with Hare opposing the draft agenda, which included items Archibald’s camp wanted, namely her office’s unresolved staff complaints and complaints against the regional chiefs.

“National chief, you’re in conflict. Please hear us. This is why we are where we are,” Hare says in the video. 

He warns that the draft agenda “is just going to cause another big uproar,” referring to the July 2022 assembly that dipped into chaos as Archibald easily defeated the first non-confidence motion.

“I’m not supporting this,” Hare says, before listing which agenda items he wants removed. At that point, Archibald jumps in.

“I’m just going to speak up now, because you’re in a conflict of interest, Regional Chief Hare,” she charges in the video. He tries to cut her off, but she continues.

“You are in a conflict of interest by trying to remove items that are actually illuminating the full picture. There are a number of staff complaints against executive members that you’re not dealing with — and that’s a conflict of interest.”

Archibald continues by accusing Hare of having “blocked [her] from attending his meeting,” referring to the Chiefs of Ontario (COO) assembly the previous day in Thunder Bay.

Hare’s COO is the umbrella organization for 133 bands in Ontario. Its agenda for June 13 included an in-camera discussion on the status of the AFN.

First Nations leader sit together on stage.
The AFN national chief and regional chiefs attend an assembly in Vancouver on July 5, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In the video from the next day, Hare immediately rejects the charge that he blocked Archibald. “Chief, can I correct that? Can I correct that? Chief, can I correct that?” he says.

“No, you can’t, because I have the floor. I have the floor!” Archibald replies, as Hare interrupts, saying, “You had my floor yesterday!”

But the national chief keeps repeating,”I have the floor! I have the floor! I have the floor! I have the floor!”

“You came in my meeting! You came in my meeting! Don’t lie to us!” Hare counters. “You came in my meeting yesterday! You came in there!” 

“I did not have the floor in your meeting,” Archibald replies again, as Hare continues, “You came in there! You came in there!” He eventually relents and she makes her point. 

“I did not have the floor in your meeting, and you barred me from attending your meeting, so this is a very unfair process. You are in a conflict of interest, Regional Chief Hare,” Archibald says.

“You’re in a conflict of interest and every member on this executive committee is in a conflict of interest on this, because you’re trying to block items that will reveal the truth about you.”

Quarrelling continues

While the video ends there, CBC News also obtained a nearly four-hour audio recording of the meeting revealing that the divisive squabbling continued.

On the recording, Hare’s chief of staff, Charlotte Commanda, soon jumps in to clarify that the Ontario chiefs elected not to hear the national leader.

At one point, about two and half hours in, New Brunswick Regional Chief Joanna Bernard accuses Archibald of disseminating a heavily one-sided account in these communiqués.

“You’re giving your side of the story without the whole picture here, and that’s where the problem lies,” Bernard says.

Bernard goes on to explain her opposition to the draft agenda, which included items on the group’s failure to restore internal harmony — for which Archibald blames the regional chiefs — and Archibald’s attempts to secure legal counsel. 

In her June 14 memo, Archibald alleges the AFN has refused to approve multiple lawyer contracts for her office, accusing the regional chiefs of “behaving like Indian agents,” referring to a colonial policy that prevented First Nations from hiring lawyers.

In the meeting, Bernard points the finger back at the national leader.

“I feel — this is my opinion only, national chief — that we’re not healing. This crap healing path forward and this love and peace stuff, I’ve had it up to my ears,” Bernard says on the recording.

“I’m sick of hearing it when things that you are doing are on the opposite end of that, undermining us as an executive.”

The chiefs-in-assembly are scheduled to meet on Wednesday to address their leader’s fate in a virtual, one-day gathering closed to the public and the media. The items Archibald backed are not on the final agenda.

The national chief declined to give interviews before the assembly, and her office would not directly answer questions about it.

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