OTTAWA — Murray Sinclair, a former senator and commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, will help the Assembly of First Nations with conflict resolution in 2023, national chief RoseAnne Archibald said Tuesday.
Archibald made the announcement in her opening remarks to chiefs gathered in Ottawa for a three-day special assembly.
The organization, which serves as the national advocacy voice for more than 600 First Nations, has spent months dealing with infighting in its highest ranks over complaints lodged against Archibald by her staff.
That conflict played out in public during the last AFN gathering in Vancouver in July. Archibald attended the meetings despite a vote by the executive committee and board of directors to temporarily suspend her leadership after they said a public statement she made about the workplace complaints violated its terms of confidentiality.
During that convention, chiefs voted down an emergency resolution to affirm her suspension. Archibald then took the stage to express her gratitude, alleging she was unjustly suspended because she had been trying to investigate corruption within the assembly.
So before beginning her address on Tuesday, Archibald encouraged the room to take a moment to breathe.
"I think we're all kind of holding our breath."
She told the chiefs the organization has important matters it must deal with and warned that it cannot afford to spend more time embroiled in conflict.
"We can't spend another minute, never mind a chiefs' assembly, in turmoil," said Archibald.
"Our people are watching."
Archibald said there are still human resources and legal matters that need to be resolved in the coming months. One major one is the internal investigation into allegations made by against Archibald herself by five complainants.
Raquel Chisholm, a lawyer the organization hired back in May to oversee the process, delivered a video message to the chiefs Tuesday informing them investigators haven't yet had a chance to interview Archibald because she expressed concerns through her legal counsel "about the fairness of the process."
Chisholm says the investigators looking into the matter are independent and she committed to address any concerns parties have, expressing hope an interview with the national chief would happen this month.
Since the July gathering — which one chief who took the mic referred to as a "gong show" — she said she has "made every effort to heal and create harmony" in her relationships with the regional chiefs.
"In the new year, former justice and senator Murray Sinclair will be assisting us with conflict resolution and mediation."
Archibald's call to look beyond the inner conflict was echoed by other speakers, including Chief Dylan Whiteduck of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, near Ottawa, who said he felt what transpired in July "compromised" their integrity as chiefs.
"It's time to move on and work for our people. That's why we're here today as elected officials and chiefs and councils and proxies, so please work together," he said to applause from the room.
A similar sentiment was echoed by a co-chair of the AFN's national youth council.
"We need to put away the animosity and egos so we can work together in this very limited time that we have in these next few days," said Rosalie LaBillois of Eel River Bar First Nation.
"Our fight is not with each other. Our fight is for the protection of our land, for the protection and safety of our people and for the recognition and assertion of our ways."
Adam Fiddler, a co-chair of the assembly, said chiefs have 70 draft resolutions to deal with, after only voting on five back in July. They cover topics including child welfare, justice reform and legislation for clean drinking water.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and cabinet ministers tasked with leading files that deal directly with matters affecting First Nations are set to address the assembly later in the week.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet are also expected to speak.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has instead recorded a video message. His office said he will be out of town that day.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press