AFN head vows to remain ‘neutral,’ declines doling out official endorsement

By Palak Mangat September 1, 2021

Newly-minted Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald sought to strike a diplomatic tone yesterday, shying away from endorsing any single party in the upcoming vote while laying out the group’s demands for whoever forms the next government.

Speaking to reporters virtually, Archibald, who was elected to the post in July, said she did not want to wade into such territory.

“I have to remain neutral and work with whatever party is elected,” she said, although some Indigenous leaders across the country, including those linked to the assembly, have made endorsements. Noting there are several Indigenous candidates who have thrown their hat into the ring, Archibald wished them all “the absolute best” in their campaign efforts to boost the number of diverse elected officials on the Hill.

Archibald’s predecessor, Perry Bellegarde, made waves in 2015 when he told reporters he would not be voting in an election to remain non-partisan, before reversing that decision just a week later.

Her Tuesday presser came shortly after two regional chiefs in Manitoba trumpeted a Liberal candidate they hope will topple NDP incumbent Niki Ashton, while NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and other orange provincial incumbents stood alongside them at a campaign event.

Archibald added yesterday the AFN’s 16-page priorities document lays the groundwork for parties to “respond” to its calls to advance reconciliation.

“There’s been a legacy of underfunding and neglect by successive governments since the beginning of Canada. We’re talking well over 100 years of legacy issues we have to address,” she said. The new leader added the Conservatives’ platform “indicates progress — because we know First Nations have had a difficult relationship with previous Conservative governments.”

“So I’m hopeful that space is being created within these campaigns for discussion around First Nations priorities.”

The AFN’s demands include ramping up efforts to address the legacies left behind by residential schools amid “recoveries” of the remains of those who attended such sites in recent months.

The blueprint calls for parties to promise “sufficient funding and other resources” to those affected by the burial sites, and Archibald has in the past talked about how the $321 million set aside this summer by Ottawa (before the election call) for such a cause is not enough.

“We have had this opportunity to really help Canadians focus on the truth of this country,” said Archibald Tuesday. “The fact is these institutions of assimilation and genocide have been very disruptive to our communities, and it’s been an ongoing assault on our culture, language, and in particualr children.”

AFN urges parties to take action on climate change
The group also appeared to stake its ground on the environmental file, urging parties to commit to cutting emissions in Canada by 60 per cent below 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

It’s become a sticky file that has already landed some politicians in hot water, with Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole recently doubling down on his promise to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent compared to 2005 levels come 2030.

The Liberals, who in April vowed to lower them by up to 45 per cent by that timeline (and later formalized it in their submission to the United Nations in July), have decried it as a measure that puts the country “back” to Stephen Harper-era targets.

The Liberals have also taken heat from several environmental groups who say the target is not ambitious enough, while fending off criticism that their unquantified subsidies to the oil and gas sector undermine progress made on the green file.

Trudeau, seemingly in response to such attacks, vowed over the weekend that emissions in the industry would not grow but decrease under his watch, though details on baseline levels and enforcement remained light.