Sunday, September 21, 2014
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Next generation involved online

Tracy Samra / Daily News

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations is not our "Prime Minister" or Chief of Chiefs. That said, the national chief is a well-regarded and respected leader that has, and could continue to play, a pivotal role in government/First Nation relations.

It is undeniable that each of the AFN national chiefs has made significant contributions to the fabric of Canadian society.

But times have changed and now the very relevance of the AFN is being questioned.

The AFN is a complex political organization with more than 600 chiefs electing a national chief - it is not the only nationally recognized body for First Nations. We have the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples representing First Nation peoples off reserve and the Native Women's Association of Canada providing a voice for First Nation and Métis women.

Today's AFN meetings are streamed live over the Internet and you can watch politics play out over your Twitter feed.

We don't have to wait for our chief to return to the community and report back on the resolutions.

Social media has made it possible for anyone to engage in real time on key issues like education and natural resource development, at least with those on-line.

With the resignation of National Chief Shawn Atleo it is clear that there is discontent with the AFN. It has less to do with our former national chief and more to do with the current federal government's approach to the Aboriginal portfolio.

Ottawa prefers to deal with one person rather than honour its constitutional and treaty obligations to Aboriginal peoples. As a result, it has put the spotlight on the national chief and the role of AFN.

There is a growing movement calling for the immediate reform or abolition of the AFN arguing it is a tool for government not First Nations which is exasperated by the fact that it is funded by the government.

Concerns focus on organizational structure and mandate. Some believe everyone should have a vote not just their chief. Others prefer to see voting based on regional populations or nations.

Aboriginal youth are educated, motivated and they wield technology to hold leadership accountable - they use Twitter and Facebook to advocate for their political, treaty and Aboriginal rights and are demanding a voice in shaping Aboriginal policies that affect their lives.

The chiefs were unable to resolve these challenges at the recent AFN annual general assembly in Halifax but they did decide to hold elections for the national chief this December in Winnipeg.

I am hopeful the next national chief is able to work collaboratively with all First Nations to transform the AFN into a more inclusive forum that respects the dignity and self-determination of its member Nations and Aboriginal youth, our next generation.

" Tracy Samra is an Aboriginal lawyer and consultant with more than 20 years experience working with Aboriginal groups in Canada.  

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