Speech at the Launch of the New AFN Campaign

Thank you, Patrick.

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen.

Ahnee-Boozhoo. Eyabay n’dizhinkaaz. Mukwa n’dodem.

Over the past few months, I have been approached by an overwhelming number of Chiefs and citizens from across Canada to consider running for national leadership. Early in the new year, I went into the sweat lodge, asking for guidance from both the Spirit and our elders in ceremony to guide me to a decision. But nothing has touched me more, or has inspired me with vision, than the encouragement of our young people.

This announcement today, is about a vision for a grass-roots movement spurred on by the youth and their call for unity, pride, and inspiration.

The youth have spoken about the need for action – about their need for inclusion – to ascend from despair, disregard and indifference – to take their rightful place as holders of their own destiny. Above all, the youth expect fundamental change in how First Nations leaders take up their calling. With all that my spirit will muster, I accept that call in being their Agent for Change.

Today, alongside my Leadership Council, my Campaign Co-Chair Patrick Madahbee, Melanie Beaucage and Zack Beaudette, youth representatives from Nipissing First Nation, I am pleased to announce my candidacy for the office of National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

This election, that will take place in Calgary in July, will be a watershed moment and a choice between the status quo with a focus on reparations of the past; OR the choice for fundamental change and leadership into the future.

A New AFN means transcending the current concept of what the AFN has been, and has meant for a long time. The organization sprang from the National Indian Brotherhood, and developed into an organization primarily responsible for political advocacy.

The AFN has definitely had it’s place and was right for the times. The AFN has always been there to do the job that it has been asked to do – it’s role in the constitutional talks – in organizing and bringing First Nations together nationally – in advocating against legislation that we don’t agree with – and in it’s work in upholding our rights to education and health-care. The AFN has done a great deal in addressing with the issues of the past. It has given us a strong foundation for the work that must be done in the future. Now, we are moving into another era where visionary leadership will be a catalyst for change and First Nations can take our place as a legitimate order of government in the fabric of Canadian society.

The AFN must be more than a special interest group. In reality, we are a historic confederacy of Nations.

I have a vision for A New AFN where the rights-based agenda is paramount and First Nations assert a renewed jurisdiction towards self-determination, self-government and Nationhood.

Together, through Nation Building, we will work towards eliminating poverty, building economies, empowering our citizens and our youth through unity with pride.

A New AFN will truly support First Nations to determine who our citizens are, represent their interests wherever they live and give us all a homeland of wealth and prosperity.

I am pleased to outline my 10-point framework of key policy and priorities for A New AFN.

As I stated, I am committed to Fundamental Change at the Assembly of First Nations through transparency, community engagement and renewal.

What the AFN doesn’t do is take on the mantle of governance. The National Chief moves various issues guided by resolution. There are no laws enacted, there are no provisions for First Nations to act as real nations within the framework of the AFN. We must begin to move past the present concept and move towards a complete re-organization of the AFN to a Nationhood model. The emphasis must be placed on the aspect that the organization speaks for all First Nation citizens.

I will renew our Commitment to Youth in all areas, especially education, skills-development and employment.

I will be the best candidate in implementing Regional Priorities and working for all regions across Canada.

Above all, I will work towards a renewed commitment to the Rights-Based Agenda and Treaty Implementation.

For most First Nations who are mired in cycles of poverty, the only thing they have is their rights, inherent, aboriginal, and rights under treaty. The whole concept, or basis of common law support these rights, and the value of rights must not be underestimated.

We must move beyond looking at treaties as antiquated documents and addressing problems of the past – toward forward thinking, treaty implementation. To First Nations treaties are sacred, but they are also considered legally binding contracts. All Canadians are parties to the treaty, and all Canadians have treaty rights. We are all treaty people.

I am committed to Eliminating First Nations Poverty through enabling self-sufficient First Nations economies as well as advocating for affordable housing and addressing overcrowding.

While there are many F.N.’s that are heavily involved in economic ventures, these communities are in the minority. In order for us to be truly self-governed we must be self-determined. This can only occur if we have an independent source of income. To continually go to government and ask for money to run our communities is to give the federal government a great deal of control over our day to day living. This has to stop.

We must be able to run our governments and communities with a combination of self-generated income and transfer payments that are set up in much the same way as transfers are done to the provinces. I will be moving towards the goal of changing the way First Nations are funded through transfer payments and equalization. This will mean that there will be a higher standard set up for our community governments to be accountable to their constituents.

I will also take steps towards constitutional change Recognizing First Nations Governments.

The New AFN must start a process of moving First Nations governance towards formal acceptance within the Constitution and within the Council of The Federation. This would take the form of a constitutional amendment to recognize the right to self-government, as well as a constitutionally recognized right to have representation in the House of Commons and in the Senate of Canada. These elected representatives would not belong to any established political party, but would advocate, vote, and participate in debates to ensure that First Nation interests and treaty rights are being protected.

I am interested in Overhauling First Nations Health Services, through the integration of federal, provincial, and local health programs, a renewed focus on prevention and chronic disease management, a renewed focus on nutrition and exercise, and implementing systemic health indicators to measure success.

As an Anishinaabe man, I am committed to restoring our role as Stewards of Mother Earth in protecting the environment.

I will continue to support Nation Building by revitalizing First Nations language and culture, restoring identity and instilling pride in our people.

Nationhood was set out and recognized in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Treaties are an extension of nationhood recognition, and further, set out the basis of our relationship with the Crown. But it is through asserting our Nationhood, and re-establishing our language, identity and governance models that will carry us through for seven generations and beyond.

Finally, and most importantly I am committed to Supporting First Nation Citizenship including our right to determine our own citizens and to advocate for our citizens and represent their interests wherever they choose to live.

No matter who is elected as the next National Chief, there is no question – Change is Coming. Change is coming to the Assembly of First Nations. That change will be toward nationhood and recognition of First Nations as legitimate orders of government within Canada.

We are a government in principle. A government by right. A government in action.

A government may be able to resist rebellion, terrorism, and severe economic downturn, but a government is also unable to resist an idea whose time has come.

There is no question, the next leader will have to be responsive to these changing times, be responsive to the youth, and be responsive to all First Nations citizens.

I accept this challenge, and believe I can provide that inspired leadership and be that catalyst for fundamental change to bring First Nations out of systemic inertia into Nationhood and prosperity.

Miigwetch. Thank you.

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