History of Assembly of First Nations

November 25, 2014

teepees in Ottawa
Photo: Shutterstock

Every three years, the Assembly of First Nations holds an election for the Office of National Chief. This year the election will be on December 10, at the 35th Annual Assembly.

This election is unique in that it is the first time in history there has not been a sitting National Chief, as the former National Chief, Shawn A-in-chut-Atleo, stepped down from the position earlier in the year. The AFN Executive appointed AFN Regional Chief for Quebec-Labrador Ghislain Picard as spokesperson for the Executive in the interim.

We thought it would be timely to offer a snapshot of the history of the Assembly of First Nations and the election process.

Long before European contact, Aboriginal Peoples in Canada organized political bodies to represent their needs and rights. Of significance is the Iroquois Confederacy (established sometime between 1570 and 1600), a sophisticated society of over 5,500 people who belonged to six linguistically related tribes. The Great Law of Iroquois Confederacy is credited as being a contributing influence on the American Constitution. Following European contact, and ensuing efforts of assimilation, in 1927, an amendment to the Indian Act essentially banned all Indian political organizations.

Resolute and determined, efforts continued to create an umbrella organization that would represent the needs and rights of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.

  • 1919 - League of Indians of Canada was formed (later became the League of Indians of Western Canada)
  • 1939 - League of Indians splits into two groups - the Indian Association of Alberta and The Protective Association for Indians and Their Treaties
  • 1961 - the National Indian Council was formed to represent Indigenous people of Canada - treaty/status Indians, non-status Indians, Métis, but not Inuit.
  • 1967 - the National Indian Council closed; non-status Indians and Métis formed the Native Council of Canada; the treaty/status Indians formed the National Indian Brotherhood
  • 1970 - National Indian Brotherhood is incorporated
  • 1978 - the first “All Chiefs’ Conference” was held and the topic was Indian self-government; during a following All Chiefs’ Conference, it was announced that the All Chief Conference would be the sole voice of “Indian People in Canada”; this coincided with the announcement that Canada would patriate its constitution
  • 1982 - the first Assembly of First Nations was held

The Assembly of First Nations represents the over 630 First Nation communities in Canada but does not represent Inuit or Métis interests. Each Nation is given a seat in the Assembly, each seat is filled by a Chief or representative, and only they have the right to vote for National Chief. Individual First Nation people are not eligible to vote for the National Chief which is an ongoing bone of contention with First Nations.

As the election of the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations does not garner the same attention as does the election of the Prime Minister of Canada, many non-First Nation people are unaware of the process and procedure. For political junkies, as the hours on election day tick by, the political jockeying that sometimes goes on can be fascinating.

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