Assembly of First Nations

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is an assembly, modelled on the United Nations General Assembly, of First Nations (Indian bands) represented by their chiefs. It emerged from and replaced the Canadian National Indian Brotherhood in the early 1980s. The aims of the organization are to protect and advance the aboriginal and treaty rights and interests of First Nations in Canada, including health, education, culture and language.[1]

Assembly of First Nations
Assemblée des Premières Nations  (French)
AFN Logo
Formationbegan emerging from the National Indian Brotherhood in 1978, eventually holding its first meeting in April 1982 in Penticton, British Columbia.
HeadquartersOttawa, Ontario
Region served
Official language
English, French
National chief
Perry Bellegarde


The self-formation of political organizations of Indigenous peoples of North America has been a constant process over many centuries—the Iroquois Confederacy and the Blackfoot Confederacy are two prominent pre-colonial examples. Other groups formed to enter into Treaties with colonial governments.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, a number of regional organizations, like the Grand Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec and the Allied Tribes of B.C. were formed. After the second world war, the provincial and territorial organizations continued to grow in number and strength.

The National Indian Council (NIC) was created in 1961 to represent Indigenous people of Canada, including treaty/status Indians, non-status Indians, the Métis people, though not the Inuit.[2] This organization, however, collapsed in 1967 as the three groups failed to act as one.

In response to the collapse of the NIC and the 1969 White Paper, George Manuel, Noel Doucette, Andrew Delisle, Omer Peters, Jack Sark, Dave Courchene, Roy Sam, Harold Sappier, Dave Ahenakew, Harold Cardinal and Roy Daniels incorporated the National Indian Brotherhood in 1970, an umbrella organization for the various provincial and territorial organizations, like the Indian Association of Alberta.[3][4]

National Indian Brotherhood

The NIB was a national political body made up of the leadership of the various provincial and territorial organizations (PTOs) which lobbied for changes to federal and provincial policies.[5]

The following year, the NIB launched its first major campaign in opposition to the 1969 White Paper, in which the Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chrétien, proposed the abolition of the Indian Act, the rejection of land claims, and the assimilation of First Nations people into the Canadian population with the status of other ethnic minorities rather than a distinct group.

Supported by a churches, labour and other citizen groups, the NIB mounted massive opposition to the government plan. On June 3, 1970, the NIB presented the response by Harold Cardinal and the Indian Chiefs of Alberta (entitled "Citizens Plus" but commonly known as the "Red Paper") to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and ministers of his Cabinet. Startled by the strong opposition to the White Paper, the Prime Minister told the delegation the White Paper would not be imposed against their will.

In 1972, the NIB's policy paper "Indian Control of Indian Education" was generally accepted by federal government and the NIB gained national recognition for the issue of Indigenous education in Canada. Undoubtedly, this was one of the last steps in ending the Canadian Residential School System, long opposed by Indigenous people, but also a first step in the push for Indigenous self-governance.[2][6]

In 1973, the Calder case decision was issued.[7] "You have more rights than I thought you did," Prime Minister Trudeau told the NIB leaders.

The NIB gained consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1974, until such time as an international Indigenous organization could be formed. When the World Council of Indigenous Peoples was formed on Nuu-chah-nulth territory the following year with the leadership of George Manuel, it took the place of the NIB at the United Nations.

Shift toward representation for chiefs

However, the NIB was not without its problems. Individual chiefs and regional groupings begin to chafe because their only access to the national scene was through their respective PTOs. The chiefs complained they were not being heard.

In 1978, in an effort to let the chiefs be heard, NIB President Noel Starblanket organized an "All Chiefs Conference" on "Indian Self-Government". The Chiefs were delighted with the opportunity, and at a second All Chief Conference, announced that hereafter, the All Chief Conference would be "the one and only voice of Indian people in Canada."

This move coincided with Prime Minister Trudeau's announcement that Canada would patriate its constitution. The question arose as to what would happen with the Treaty and aboriginal rights that had been guaranteed by the Imperial Crown if Canada took over its own governance. Strong national leadership from the Chiefs became essential. The Chiefs formalized their governance structure, compromised by incorporating a "Confederacy" composed largely of the NIB leadership, and made the NIB, an incorporated body, its administrative secretariat. They used the United Nations General Assembly as a model in conceiving what the new Assembly of First Nations would become.

The Chiefs held their first assembly as "the Assembly of First Nations" (AFN) in Penticton, British Columbia, in April 1982. The new structure, which gave membership and voting rights to individual First Nations chiefs rather than provincial/territorial organizations,[8][9] was adopted in July 1985, as part of the Charter of the Assembly of First Nations.

Assembly of First Nations

On September 1, 1994, Ovide Mercredi, Chief of the AFN, advised federal government leaders that it must guarantee the rights of Aboriginal people in Quebec in the event of disunion.[5]

In early 2013, documents revealed that the AFN had been operating in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to provide information and conduct surveillance on members of the First Nations community. Documents acquired through access to information requests, reveal that heads of the RCMP, and the Ontario and Quebec provincial police met in the summer of 2007 with then AFN national chief Phil Fontaine to "facilitate a consistent and effective approach to managing Aboriginal protests and occupations."[10]

The AFN, which depends upon the federal government for most of its funding, has sometimes been accused of being obsequious, and not representative of the larger First Nations community.[11][12]

Principal organs

  • National Chief
  • First Nations-in-Assembly
  • The Executive Committee
  • Secretariat
  • Council of Elders

Presidents of the National Indian Brotherhood

National Chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations

See also


  1. "Consolidated Statement of Revenue and Expenses" (PDF). AFN Executive Committee Reports. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-11-02.
  2. Assembly of First Nations – The Story Archived 2009-08-02 at the Wayback Machine
  3. McFarlane, Peter (1993). Brotherhood to nationhood : George Manuel and the making of the modern Indian movement. Toronto: Between the Lines. ISBN 0921284667.
  4. "First Nations Bill C-44" (PDF). The Assembly of First Nations.
  5. Pound, Richard W. (2005). 'Fitzhenry and Whiteside Book of Canadian Facts and Dates'. Fitzhenry and Whiteside.
  6. A Brief History of the Education of First Nations Children: What Should They Learn and How Should They Learn it?, Iram Khan
  7. With an ear to the ground: The CCF/NDP and aboriginal policy in Canada, 1926–1993 Journal of Canadian Studies, Spring 1999 by Frank James Tester, Paule McNicoll, Jessie Forsyth
  8. "The New order of government". Saskatchewan Indian. 12(4): 30–32. May 1982.
  9. "First Nations Assembly". Saskatchewan Indian (v12 n04 p26). May 1982. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  10. "Assembly of First Nations, RCMP co-operated on response to mass protests in 2007 | The Star". Retrieved 2019-03-03.
  11. Watts, Vanessa; King, Hayden (2018-07-26). "After AFN national chief election, apathy and resignation remain". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2019-10-27.
  12. Kinew, Wab (2014-05-07). "Why Canada Still Needs the Assembly of First Nations". HuffPost Canada. Retrieved 2019-10-27.
  13. "Quebec regional Chief Picard takes interim AFN helm". APTN National News, July 16, 2014.
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