Assembly of First Nations
Assemblée des Premières Nations  (French)
AFN Logo
FormationDeveloped from the NIB beginning 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 Edit this at Wikidata

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]


Main article: History of Indigenous organizations in Canada

The formation of political organizations for and by Indigenous peoples of North America has been a constant process over many centuries: the Iroquois Confederacy Haudenosauneeand the Blackfoot Confederacy are two prominent pre-colonial examples. There were confederacies in New England and in the Southeast British colonies. Other groups formed to enter into treaties with colonial governments.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, a number of regional organizations, such as the Grand Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec and the Allied Tribes of B.C. were formed in Canada. After World War II, the provincial and territorial organizations continued to grow in number and strength.

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

At the same time, indigenous activism was rising. Following this and the publication of 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. It was intended as 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 that, the Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chrétien, had proposed abolition of the Indian Act, rejection of Aboriginal land claims, and assimilation of First Nations people into the Canadian population with the status of other ethnic minorities rather than as 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 that the White Paper recommendations would not be imposed against their will.

In 1972, the NIB submitted their policy paper Indian Control of Indian Education to the federal government, which generally accepted it. The NIB gained national recognition on the issue of Indigenous education in Canada. Their work contributed to the government ending the Canadian Residential School System, which had long opposed by Indigenous people. It was 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, under the leadership of George Manuel, it took the place of the NIB at the United Nations.

Shift toward representation for chiefs

The NIB began to have its own tensions. 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 enable more opinions to be heard, NIB President Noel Starblanket organized an "All Chiefs Conference" on Indian Self-Government. The Chiefs were delighted with the opportunity. At a second All Chief Conference, the Chiefs announced that the All Chief Conference would be "the one and only voice of Indian people in Canada."

That same year Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Canada would patriate its constitution. NIB and other groups questioned what would happen to the Treaty and aboriginal rights that had been guaranteed by the Imperial Crown, if Canada took over its own governance. They believed that strong national leadership from the Chiefs was 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 how the new Assembly of First Nations would be structured and operate.

The Chiefs held their first assembly as "the Assembly of First Nations" (AFN) in Penticton, British Columbia, in April 1982. The new structure gave membership and voting rights to individual First Nations chiefs rather than to provincial/territorial organizations.[8][9] This structure 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, at a time of dissension and discussion of Quebec seeking independence.[5]

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

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

Principal organs

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. ^ a b 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. ^ a b 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. ^ Tester, Frank James; McNicoll, Paule; Forsyth, Jessie (Spring 1999). "With an ear to the ground: The CCF/NDP and aboriginal policy in Canada, 1926–1993". Journal of Canadian Studies. 34: 52–74. doi:10.3138/jcs.34.1.52. S2CID 140481114. Archived from the original on 2007-07-06.
  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. Archived from the original on 2015-08-09. 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.