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Assembly of First Nations
Aboriginal political representation
Newly elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Phil Fontaine,
is widely regarded as the most diplomatic of the candidates. While former AFN leader
Matthew Coon Come provided a voice of protest, Fontaine has extremely close ties to
the federal Liberal Party, and is more likely to be heard in Ottawa.
Assembly of First Nations
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is the national representative organization of
the First Nations in Canada. There are over 630 First Nations communities in Canada.
The AFN Secretariat, is designed to present the views of the various First Nations through
their leaders in areas such as Aboriginal and treaty rights, economic development, education,
languages and literacy, health, housing, social development, justice, taxation, land
claims, environment, etc.
- Purpose: The AFN’s professed purpose is “to promote the restoration
and enhancement” of the relationship between First Nations, the Crown and the people
- The Chiefs meet annually to set national policy and direction,
- The National Chief is elected every three years by the Chiefs-in-Assembly.
- Meeting: The Chiefs meet every 3 to 4 months in a forum called
the Confederacy of Nations.
- Membership: The Confederacy consists of Chiefs and other regional
leaders chosen according to a formula based on each region's population.
- Funding: The AFN receives most of its operating funds from the
Department of Indian Affairs.
- Charter: The overall AFN structure is based on the Charter of
the Assembly of First Nations, which was adopted in July 1985.
- Components: The principal organs of the Assembly of First Nations
are the First Nations-in-Assembly, the Confederacy of Nations, the Executive Committee,
the Secretariat (AFN/NIB), and the Council of Elders.
The official AFN website has more details.
Who is Phil Fontaine?
- 1973: became chief of his own Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba.
He was 27. After two consecutive terms, he took a job with the federal government
as regional director general in the Yukon.
- 1980: returned to Manitoba to complete a degree in political science
at the University of Manitoba. After graduation, he worked for the Southeast Tribal
Council as a special advisor and was the deputy co-ordinator of the Native Economic
Program, eventually becoming Manitoba vice-chief for the Assembly of First Nations.
- 1991: Fontaine was elected grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba
Chiefs, serving three consecutive terms. According to his 2003 campaign bio, he was
instrumental in the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord, the development of Manitoba's
Framework Agreement Initiative, and an employment equity agreement with 39 federal
- 1997: became grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations for
the first time, succeeding Ovide Mercredi. He quickly gained a reputation as a diplomat
who preferred negotiation to confrontation. His approach led many chiefs to see him
as a sell-out when dealing with the federal government.
- 2000: Matthew Coon Come defeats Fontaine in the July election
by a relatively narrow margin of 287 to 207 votes.
- July 2003: elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations
for the second time.
Who is Matthew Coon Come?
- Coon Come was born in a hut along the trap line his parents worked in northern
Quebec. It was a seasonal encampment for the Cree, where they hunted and fished near
James Bay. Coon Come didn't see a white man until he was six, and the white man turned
out to be an Indian Affairs agent who came by float plane to take Matthew to a residential
school. Coon Come attended residential schools in Moose Factory, La Tuque and Hull,
and then enrolled at Trent University to study political science.
- At 21, Matthew Coon Come became deputy chief for the Cree nation of Northern Quebec,
later becoming the Grand Chief for some 12,000 Crees.
- Was a vocal opponent – on behalf of Quebec’s aboriginal peoples – of the Quebec
- Led the fight against a massive $13 billion James Bay hydroelectric project, which
threatened to flood much of his ancestral land in northern Quebec.
- Coon Come is an ‘internationalist’ and a global activist.
- "If the government of Canada wishes to continue to stand tall as a member of
the community of nations, (it) will have to recognize our right to share in the wealth
of the land." – July 2000.
Who is Roberta Jamieson?
- 1953: Born on Six Nations of the Grand River reserve (near Brantford,
- 1970: Began studying medicine at McGill University (she later
switched to law).
- 1976: Graduated with LLB degree from the University of Western
Ontario, the first woman in Canada from a First Nation to obtain a law degree.
- 1978 to 1982: Held various junior and senior positions at the
Indian Commission of Ontario.
- 1982: Appointed as ex-officio member to a House of Commons committee
special task force on Indian self-government.
- 1983: Continued work with Indian Commission of Ontario.
- 1986: Appointed commissioner of Indian Commission of Ontario.
- 1989 to 1999: Completed term as commissioner and became Ombudsman
for the province of Ontario.
- 1994: Appointed member of the Order of Canada.
- 2001: Elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River.
- July 2003: Ran for leadership of the Assembly of First Nations.
She made it to the second ballot, where she obtained 39.1% of the vote, losing to
Phil Fontaine who received 60.9% of the vote.
For more, see the CBC’s
2003 AFN election website.