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Fate of Assembly of First Nations financial probe uncertain after former national chief’s ousting

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) faces tough questions as it heads for its annual general assembly in Halifax next week — and top among them is whether the group will follow through with the forensic audit its now-former national chief demanded.

Before her ousting last week, RoseAnne Archibald alleged the AFN spent an estimated $2 million on lawyers and investigations to oust her since early 2021, according to documents and a recording obtained by CBC News.

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

Meanwhile, the forensic audit she sought hasn’t moved forward since July 2022 in Vancouver, when AFN member chiefs endorsed both the financial review and a workplace probe into Archibald’s conduct.

“We haven’t been able to really move forward on it,” said Khelsilem, chairperson of the Squamish Nation Council in B.C., on Wednesday.

“We haven’t been resourced in any way around it. It’s been quite challenging in that regard.”

Two politicians shake hands.
Squamish Nation Council Chairperson Khelsilem, right, with Assembly of First Nations then-national chief RoseAnne Archibald in Vancouver on Oct. 19, 2022. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Khelsilem chairs the AFN chiefs committee on charter renewal, a volunteer-based group handling the forensic audit. He moved a draft resolution, scheduled for debate in Halifax, asking the chiefs for their full support.

The AFN, a government-funded First Nations advocacy organization, represents 634 chiefs across the country. The organization got $39.2 million in federal cash in 2021-22, its financial statements show. 

Archibald was ousted at a June 28 virtual assembly attended by 231 delegates — less than half of those eligible. It saw 163 people vote to adopt a non-confidence motion, with 62 opposed and six abstentions. CBC News was granted access to the virtual assembly.

Archibald has not challenged the outcome, instead urging supporters to demand her reinstatement in a video on Monday, calling the investigation a distraction from her campaign to clean up alleged corruption.

Money for some probes and not others: Archibald

During a heated AFN executive committee meeting on June 14, Archibald questioned her regional chiefs on why there seemed to be ample funding for some probes, but not others. 

Archibald accuses the AFN of reaching deep into its treasury to engineer her overthrow, while refusing to approve contracts for her lawyer and obstructing complaints against regional chiefs.

“I don’t know if you realize how much you have spent attacking me as the national chief, and there’s something wrong with that,” said Archibald, who is Cree from Taykwa Tagamou Nation in northern Ontario.

“When you get $2 million at your disposal but I get $0, that’s a big injustice, and that’s what the chiefs need to know.”

CBC News couldn’t independently confirm Archibald’s claim of $2 million. She was subject to a previous probe in 2021, a preliminary investigation before that, and the second investigation in 2022, for which the AFN hired at least three different law firms.

WATCH | Former AFN national chief appeals to her supporters: 

fate of assembly of first nations financial probe uncertain after former national chiefs ousting 1

RoseAnne Archibald appeals for help to be reinstated as AFN national chief

3 days ago

Duration 5:12

In a video posted to Facebook on Monday, RoseAnne Archibald said Assembly of First Nations chiefs ‘ignored our sacred ways’ on June 28 when they voted to oust her as national chief. Archibald appealed to her supporters to contact their respective chiefs and councils to ask for her reinstatement as national chief and to advocate for a forensic audit that she previously called for into AFN finances under her predecessors.

Archibald wanted four items included on the agenda she believed told the whole story: 

  • Four unresolved human resources complaints by national chief’s office staff. 
  • Three unresolved code of conduct complaints against regional chiefs.
  • Alleged denial of legal counsel contracts for the national chief.
  • The group’s failure to restore harmony to working relationships.

But the regional chiefs opposed it. On the recording, New Brunswick Regional Chief Joanna Bernard, while questioning the accuracy of the amount, suggests the AFN’s costs could “go way higher than that $2 million” if the complaints against Archibald remained unaddressed.

Archibald has maintained the investigations were reprisal for her anti-corruption campaign, but the AFN has countered that the bullying and harassment allegations were credible and serious.

CBC News requested an interview with a spokesperson from the AFN executive on Thursday but no one was available. 

Nova Scotia Regional Chief Paul (PJ) Prosper said he couldn’t confirm Archibald’s estimate and directed questions about the forensic audit to the charter renewal committee.

Prosper, who often spoke for the executive during the dispute with Archibald, was appointed to the Senate on Thursday by the Liberal government.

Archibald’s ousting will lower AFN’s credibility: Diabo

Russ Diabo, a policy analyst from the Kanien’kehà:ka (Mohawk) community of Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal, and former adviser to Archibald, said the AFN executive opposes the financial probe.

“The executive had been stalling on that since the Vancouver assembly,” Diabo said.

“They wouldn’t even approve funding to get an auditor to look into that issue … to do a first cut.”

Diabo first met Archibald in 1989, when she was a youth activist on a hunger strike against the Mulroney government. More than three decades later, she pressed for reform with the same outspoken activist edge — something Diabo liked about her, before he joined her team in 2022.

Russ Diabo is a former candidate for Assembly of First Nations national chief and long-time consultant.
Russ Diabo is a First Nations policy analyst and member of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawà:ke. (Submitted by Russ Diabo)

But his hiring rankled some chiefs given his outspoken criticism of the AFN in the past, while Archibald showed a coldness toward Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by calling him a “performative reconciliationist” twice this year.

It was tough talk the AFN hadn’t seen in decades, and Diabo sees her toppling as handing the Liberal-friendly AFN faction a win.

“AFN had poor credibility among grassroots people, and I think this is only going to worsen that,” Diabo said.

“You’re probably going to find more and more band councils also getting fed up with AFN being in lockstep with the Liberals.”

Joe Alphonse, chief of the Tl’etinqox-t’in Government and chair of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government, is one of those people now disavowing the AFN.

Alphonse seconded a motion to endorse Archibald’s leadership, which was scrapped after the non-confidence motion carried. Alphonse urged Archibald to stick to her guns, file a court challenge, and keep fighting.

“If you want to win the horse race, you got to determine whether you got the horses to do so. If that means offending some people, so be it,” he said.

“You’ve got to bring your own people. You’re not going to win the war using somebody else’s soldiers.”

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