In what many observers believe is a signal that a power struggle for control of First Nations political leadership has begun, Matthew Coon Come, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, told the chiefs on Dec. 13 that he is not willing to maintain the status quo.
The AFN has been haunted by questions about its effectiveness for years. Critics claim the national chief is forced to try and be all things to all chiefs in order to keep his position, providing little real leadership and even less representation for grassroots people.
Coon Come called for an end to this approach during his welcoming remarks to the chiefs who gathered in Ottawa for their three-day, year-end Confederacy of Nations meeting.
"The Assembly of First Nations is at a crossroads," he said. "It can remain a talented, resourceful, but ultimately less-than-powerful policy and resource organization and clearing house. Or it can become a powerful, effective political voice for the future, an urgent and irresistible voice for a meaningful livelihood and a place in the sun for every First Nation people in this land."
A sign that Coon Come is anxious to break with the past is the chief's alliance with a man known for his criticism of First Nation leadership. Taiaiake Alfred, a professor of Indigenous governance at the University of Victoria, wrote a book that suggests First Nation leaders are co-opted, diverted from aggressively pursuing the First Nations' agenda by a Canadian system that rewards chiefs for not opposing the federal government's agenda with enthusiasm. Alfred was asked to write the first draft of Coon Come's speech to the confederacy.
Alfred admitted the final version had the rougher edges removed to avoid alienating the chiefs, but he said the central ideas remained intact in the final version.
Among the ideas is one that would allow all First Nation members to vote for the national chief. Coon Come told the chiefs that because he was directly elected by the Ja