Is it just me? Or does it seem that setting the stage for the upcoming AFN election for National Chief frequently reference “increasing anger”, “frustration”, “3rd world living conditions”, “crumbling infrastructure”, “collision course” etc. What I find interesting is that mainstream media and even many aboriginal people seem to think that the office of National Chief can singlehandedly make substantive changes to these referenced “dire” situations. For an organization that has been tasked with being a “lobby group” in terms of its major function, changing the situation for the better in most Aboriginal communities is an extremely tall order....if not impossible.
While I am not blind to the past achievements of the AFN or the hope they are capable of inspiring, I just think that perhaps too much expectation gets heaped on this organization. For example, I am not sure if there has ever been a National Chief that has actually successfully forced the Canadian Government to do something it wasn’t already prepared to do.
If you have ever had the privilege of attending an AFN national election, almost every National Chief (and candidate for National Chief) appear to deliver the similar messages about “Getting Tough”, “Unity”, “Reconciliation”, “Treaty Relationship” and some even want “Major Conflict”. While most wouldn’t argue with the first four messages it appears that not all chiefs support the “Major” classification of conflict. Certainly makes “Unity” a challenge to accomplish.
Another barrier to unity is the mudslinging that has already begun. Once again this looks to be tied back to the expectations everyone has of the National Chief. References like “defending the conservatives” and “Atleo is the new Brazeau” seem to be notable. I find this kind of amusing because if this were actually true then wouldn’t the National Chief have more influence over government decisions and/or direct access to the power centres of government? I suppose if this were true, I couldn’t imagine a more apt use of the term “Taking one for the team”.
From my perspective, I think that National Chiefs have some hard decisions to make about their approach with the Canadian government. If they don’t have an open door with Canadian lawmakers then they don’t have direct controlled influence. We end up with unilateral legislation that is created for us but supposedly in our best interest. Too much collaboration with government isn’t popular either. Conversely, taking too hard of a position on matters may be popular among certain activists and militants, but this can be alienating and can result in even more marginalization of our concerns. Either way, I am really not sure if the AFN is either prepared or even able to be the catalyst for “on the ground” social change movements.
What we end up with, is a National Chief that has to walk a fine line of moderation in order to ensure their politics will “bear fruit”. Extremism has not been a feature of this office for quite a long time, if ever.
On the outside looking in, it may be easy for a candidate to say “I am going to be different”, “I will be tough”, “Canada will listen to me because I am _________” (Insert favorite adjective/gender). Much of this type of talk has been going on for some time. This is where I personally think things get interesting because it demands that candidates and even incumbents must explain how their policies will be successful where their competitors weren’t/aren’t. Still though, the support of Chiefs might be more important than any justification, speech or catch phrase.
With 8 candidates running for National Chief, you can be assured that there will be some fiery speeches, a lot of plans for action/true change and some races run only for “visibility”. I want to think that all of this is for something meaningful, but if the pundits are right, this contest has already been predetermined even before the Chiefs arrive in Toronto this summer. From what I understand there won’t be many chiefs in attendance who are unsure of who they are going to vote for, only for whom they will be willing to swing their vote to during the grueling process of achieving the required 60% approval.
If anything, I am more than certain this election will at least be entertaining!