By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chiefs of Ontario (COO) began laying the groundwork at its virtual Special Chiefs Assembly Feb. 3 and Feb. 4 to distinguish themselves from some approaches taken by the Assembly of First Nations.
Some of the most telling work comes in the yet-to-be-finalized restructuring of the COO.
“There are areas of the AFN charter renewal work that impact our regional offices and national relationships,” said Rocky Bay First Nation Chief Melvin Hardy, who chairs the restructuring committee.
“Such as a need to clarify the regional chiefs’ responsibility to the AFN and accountability to First Nations that elect them in their respective regions. We need to articulate these relationships and accountabilities in the COO governing documents.”
Those governing documents, currently being revised or drafted, include the Ontario Regional Chief’s (ORC) oath of office, the interim services agreement for the ORC, and the COO charter.
Hardy is a COO alternative representative on the AFN charter renewal committee which has been in its process for the past couple of years.
“At this time there appears to be some inconsistencies between the AFN governing documents and Chiefs of Ontario current governing and accountability structures. The AFN states that the regional chiefs are bound by the AFN charter and code of conduct. However, the Chiefs of Ontario draft charter has the Ontario Regional Chief exclusively accountable to the Chiefs-in-Assembly in Ontario. So we want to avoid potential conflict arising where the regional chief is encouraged to be accountable to two different organizations simultaneously,” said Hardy.
The oath of office for the ORC will be changing. Historically, the oath has been one of confidentiality. Now, said Pam Hunter, advisor with COO, that oath will be “a little more involved.”
“It’s a new document the committees and leadership council felt is appropriate to have in place for an Ontario regional chief. It helps to clarify some roles, responsibilities, and obligations to the organization,” said Hunter.
Documentation will be provided to chiefs prior to the All Ontario Chiefs Conference in June when decisions could be made.
Additionally, upon the recommendation of Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald, Ontario region has given notice to the AFN to withdraw from the AFN’s education process. Archibald is past education portfolio holder for AFN.
Yesterday, COO passed a resolution mandating the Ontario First Nations Education Coordination Unit to develop recommendations for an education bi-lateral process with Indigenous Services Canada (ISC).
“These are exciting times,” said Batchewana First Nation Chief Dean Sayers, who moved the resolution.
COO’s consideration of its own education table with ISC is because Ontario First Nations lost funds due to a national formula set out by the AFN education process, said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox, who is charge of the education file for COO.
Fox told chiefs earlier in the day that funding allocation had dropped from 23 per cent to 19 per cent.
“It was up until about a month-and-a-half ago or so roughly that the regional chief called me and Murray Maracle, had an emergency meeting and we decided as a group that we would pull ourselves from the AFN National Chiefs Committee on Education and they proposed a bilateral table with ISC,” he said.
Murray Maracle, interim director of the education file, said Ontario’s attempt to fix “what was wrong” has been unsuccessful.
He said the formula used to distribute the funding was too simplistic for a “very complex issue.”
“Over the past 12 months we have lost $5 million in Ontario. That’s a huge amount of money. The process is that when we go to the table we have one vote and we’re usually outvoted because there are more people to gain from that process than lose. Because Ontario is the largest region we are the one the money usually comes from,” he said.”
Maracle said since pulling out of the AFN process, Ontario had lost $1.6 million through the post-secondary partnerships program.
However, he said, Archibald “did some great work. The institute consortium did some great work” and managed to restore that $1.6 million.
Maracle noted that an interim funding formula bilateral table was already operating with ISC.
“I think pulling out of AFN gave us some temporary relief. I think we have to put some work into AFN to change the process to make it a better process,” he said.
Another process that promises to cause a rift between COO and AFN is their approach to dealing with the federal government. While AFN continues to champion co-development of federal legislation and programs, the COO passed a resolution in 2019 opposing that approach.
“An important consideration to keep in mind is that we do have a Special Chiefs in Assembly resolution 13-19 that rejects the process of co-developing legislation with Canada, and this resolution was passed to make sure that the rights and title holders are equal partners in legislation that’s drafted. So it does not support the co-development process that the AFN does with Canada directly because to date that hasn’t been First Nations’ led,” said COO Justice Sector director Sarah-Grace Ross.
The issue was raised because of work COO is undertaking on policing legislation. Ross reminded chiefs that the no co-development parameter had to be followed unless a resolution was passed to specifically employ co-development with the policing legislation.
“The task before us is to respect the parameters of the resolution, but also make sure that the complexity and the size and the needs of First Nations in Ontario are heard by the AFN as they start their work,” said Ross.
Sayers said his observation on co-developed legislation is not favourable.
“It’s just like going through the motions and once (the federal government) announce what the legislation is going to look like it didn’t even reflect any of our input,” said Sayers.
“I think we even at one point suggested we hold the pen and we develop the first draft of the legislation for them to incorporate into the settler laws if it’s about us,” he said.
Ross said she will be speaking with the AFN to see “how will this be different and roll out differently from past co-development legislation.”
Shari Narine is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Windspeaker.com . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.