Joan Jack says leadership of the Assembly of First Nations means following the organization’s charter, which is “very clear…. The office of the National Chief is to function as a spokesperson and a facilitator of the vision of the Chiefs.”
Being National Chief is not about setting her own priorities, she says, and is not about one issue.
The purpose of the AFN, according to the charter, Jack says, is to “empower the Indigenous governments in their own lands. The charter is based on respect for the principles of diversity, tolerance, trust. Those words are actually used in the AFN charter.”
Jack established her legal practise Joan Jack Law Office in 2003 in Winnipeg. Her legal areas of expertise include Indigenous and Aboriginal law; the Independent Assessment Process through the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement; Constitutional law; land claims; and treaty land entitlement.
She has also launched a class-action lawsuit for day school survivors.
Jack has served on council for Beren Rivers First Nation since January 2012. She was nominated by Beren Rivers Chief George Kemp as a candidate for the position of National Chief.
Jack, who is married to a First Nations man and a mother of six (including three foster children), considers herself a “very well-rounded” candidate.
“I’m educated in traditional knowledge,” said Jack, pointing out she knows how to make a fire in the rain, “and on the European side I have an education degree in business and I have a law degree.”
It’s this combination of the two worlds that Jack believes prepares her for the position of National Chief.
Jack contends that the position of National Chief is different than being head of a political party, where the person at the top “basically dictates or sets the course.”
The National Chief does not set her own agenda and then lead with her own priorities. With that in mind, Jack says she will not be running an issues campaign.
“Rather than the AFN being a hierarchal system … the office of the National Chief is similar to a facilitator and a speaker, to work as part of the executive of all the leaders that have been put in place by the Chiefs in their own provinces,” said Jack, who pledges to ensure that everyone who comes to the table has a voice.
She holds that it is important to work within the system and plans to do so by “creating situations in where people are listened to and heard and have opportunity to dialogue and debate and disagree with dignity.”
Jack would like to return to the practice of the 1990s when first ministers’ conferences were regular occurrences.
“We do need to get back to really looking at the Constitution of this country and how it’s implemented in our context as Indigenous people,” she said. “The Chiefs have been calling for similar such substantive initiatives to be pursued.”
Jack would also like to return to the basics of educating not only the general public but politicians about who First Nations people are and what their place is in Canadian society.
“In my own life, I think there’s great need for us to educate the general Canadian public about who we are. We live in Canada and there are still many people … if I were to walk up to them and ask them who the National Chief is right now, would anybody really know?” she asked.
Doing outreach and public education campaigns would be two ways to reach the general public. Jack points out that the AFN’s charter states that there “is an onus on (First Nations people) to ensure that we are halting colonization.” Jack would like to raise the issue with the chiefs and see what ideas they present for getting the message out.
Jack says today’s atmosphere has a “lot of toxicity…. That’s something that needs to be addressed…. Something I’m very good at is sitting in discomfort, staying in the love, and move through so that we all come out the other end feeling that we belong.”
Being part of the First Nations community and also operating in the larger context, Jack says gives her an advantage in the role of National Chief.
Jack admits she has never led at this level before and doesn’t presume to know what it involves entirely, but she does “have an idea” of what it would be like and how she would function in the role.
“I think it’s a new kind of leadership I’m bringing,” she said. “I think that traditional leadership or participatory democracy … it’s about inspirational leadership, it’s about visionary leadership. My vision is that we have a country where we all prosper today while protecting tomorrow.”