AFN elects first female National Chief
- NC Raine | July 12, 2021
RoseAnne Archibald has made history, becoming the first woman to be elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).
Archibald was named National Chief on July 8, after two days of voting. The runner-up, Chief Reginald Bellerose from Muskowekwan First Nation in Saskatchewan, conceded the victory after the fifth round of voting.
“The AFN has made her-story today,” said Archibald during a live-stream following her victory.
“Today is a victory, and you can tell all the women in your life that the glass ceiling has been broken. And I thank all the women that touched that ceiling before me and made it crack. You are an inspiration to me,” she said.
Archibald is from the Taykwa Tagamou Nation in Ontario and has previously served as regional Chief for Ontario. She has been involved in First Nations politics for 31 years since she was elected Chief of her First Nation at the age of 23.
She said she will take a “heart centred approach” to leadership, and vision for the AFN is to strengthen First Nations communities by furthering sovereignty, jurisdiction, and inherent treaty rights.
“By all accounts, National Chief RoseAnne Archibald is a ground-breaking, or maybe more accurately, a ground-healing, leader. Because I think for a lot of us, it's a testament to the strength and heart of Indigenous women and matriarchs, and how they are moving to the forefront of Indigenous governance and politics,” said Dr. Kathy Walker, lecturer of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan, and member of Okanese First Nation.
“It seems that she'll be someone who will be strong enough to govern primarily by her values and her love for the people. At the same time, she's committed to the same principles the AFN has always stood for: First Nations sovereignty, jurisdiction, and inherent treaty rights.”
Walker said she sees Archibald as being a game-changer, not simply just playing by the rules, similar to other trailblazing women like Cindy Blackstock, activist for First Nations child welfare, and Jody Wlison-Raybould, former Minister and member of Parliament, who refused to play partisan politics.
“In every example, leadership by strong women meant working to change the rules of the game. I don't think anyone wants 'politics as usual', we want a truly decolonizing approach,” said Walker.
“She seems to be someone who is willing to do things differently.”
Despite strong support from Chiefs in Saskatchewan, Chief Reginald Bellerose admitted in his concession speech that being from Saskatchewan may have been a disadvantage, as other Chiefs may have not wanted a back-to-back representative from Saskatchewan as National Chief. Saskatchewan has fielded the most AFN Chiefs – four in total.
He also commented on how he'd like to see AFN elections be handled in the future.
“I would encourage the chiefs, on a go-forward basis, that whatever we're going to do on renewal, whatever we're going to do in restructuring, let's add some stability to the election,” said Bellerose.
“Let's put some criteria on social media, let's put some criteria on how candidates conduct themselves. That way, when people say the AFN Chief is irrelevant, no it's not. It's ethical, it's strong, it's fair.”
Wilson said that the fact that Bellerose had so much support is a testament to the strength and unity of leadership in Saskatchewan. She said she does not expect Saskatchewan Chiefs to experience weakened representation at the national level as a result of the election.
“No, I don't think so. The National Chief is there to facilitate and support the mandate of the Chiefs and Assembly, and if she does her job the way she's supposed to, then all regions will be represented as well as possible.”