AFN national chief under investigation on bullying, harassment allegations

The national chief of the country’s most influential First Nations organization is under pressure to step aside as she faces an external investigation over bullying and harassment from four of her staff members, CBC News has learned.

The complaints against Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald were filed under the organization’s whistleblower policy.

In a statement issued Thursday, the AFN confirmed it received a number of complaints last month against Archibald and determined the findings supported further inquiry by an external investigator.

In her own statement released Thursday, Archibald said she welcomes the investigation and called for a forensic audit and independent inquiry into the last eight years of AFN operations.

In her statement, Archibald claims she never had a human resources complaint launched against her prior to her work at AFN.

“This is the second time that I’ve endured a smear campaign as a result of my relentless pursuit of the truth,” Archibald said in her statement.

“I hope people can see the toxic pattern at the AFN.”

Archibald alleges the four staff members filed complaints against her after they tried to secure $1 million in contract payouts.

“The background deals, the large payouts to staff and other documented incidents of corruption and collusion have caused us to lose sight of our shared goal: to fight for the collective rights of more than 900,000 Indigenous Peoples living in more than 600 First Nations communities, cities and towns across Turtle Island,” she wrote in a statement posted to social media.

Sources say problems began after Archibald took office

The whistleblower mechanism the staff used to file complaints against Archibald was created last year following a separate bullying and harassment investigation of her while she was Ontario regional chief.

The new complaints include objections to Archibald’s alleged introduction of a Hawaiian cultural practice called ho’oponopono during weekly meetings. The complaints claim that the practice sees Archibald recite prayers for staff members’ healing or in response to their mistakes from her, and say that she asks them to share their childhood traumas.

Multiple sources who spoke to CBC News said some staff members complained this practice served to re-traumatize them. The sources spoke on the condition they not be named because they fear reprisals.

Archibald’s counsel Aaron Detlor told CBC News he’s unaware of any Hawaiian cultural practices employed by the national chief, or of her asking people to reveal childhood traumas. He said he’s aware Archibald believes strongly in Indigenous-based healing.

The investigation is being conducted by an outside firm hired by the AFN.

The four staff members who made the complaints are on paid leave. Archibald remains in her role as her national chief.

Sources said the problems at the AFN office in Ottawa began shortly after Archibald took office last summer.

They describe the workplace as toxic and said staff dread coming to work each day.

The same sources, who have direct knowledge of the workings of the national chief’s office, said staff claim they’ve been yelled at by the national chief and reduced to tears by her criticism of their work.

Archibald denies she sought higher salary

Three sources said Archibald still has not signed her employment contract and has demanded she be paid the same salary as the prime minister.

In a recording of a meeting held Wednesday with Ontario regional chiefs — reviewed by CBC News — Archibald is heard denying she requested a prime ministerial salary.

Detlor also said the allegation is “simply incorrect.”

“It would quite frankly raise issues of broader issues related to some of the underlying problems where breaches of confidentiality and an attempt to resolve matters through the press is … undermining the national chief’s efforts to engage in a healing path forward,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau places tobacco in a ceremonial fire along with Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars, right, Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald, left, and Minister of Crown Indigenous Relations Marc Miller, back, on the former grounds of St Joseph’s Mission Residential School in Williams Lake, BC, on March 30, 2022. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

At the same meeting with Ontario chiefs, the sources said, Archibald asked for support to dissolve the AFN secretariat — the administrative and operational arm of the organization, which employs about 200 people.

Archibald is also facing pressure from some First Nations chiefs to step down.

McLeod Lake Indian Band Chief Harley Chingee, whose band is in British Columbia, drafted a resolution to be tabled at next month’s AFN gathering of chiefs to force Archibald’s ouster. It was seconded by Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson, whose community is in Manitoba.

BC chief questions Archibald’s election victory

Chingee said Archibald’s 2021 election victory may not be legitimate under the organization’s charter. The charter requires that a national chief be elected with 60 per cent of the vote.

Archibald was elected on 205 ballots, accounting for only 50 per cent of votes cast during the election, which was held virtually because of COVID-19 restrictions. Her opponent, Reginald Bellerose, dropped out after receiving 144 votes, or 35 per cent of the total.

Chingee said the AFN is currently adrift.

“Her administration is sort of messed up because if you have a leader that’s not leading the troops in a good way, the people underneath it are also discombobulated,” he said.

“That’s a problem for morale and thinking forward and looking after the interests of the First Nations.”

Chingee expressed concern about reports he said he’s heard regarding how Archibald is treating people in his office.

‘Her silence is deafening’

He also said Archibald is largely absent from the national stage and only deals with a select number of chiefs.

“Her silence is deafening,” Chingee said. “I’m concerned to the degree that we’re a leaderless bunch. Just bobbing in the ocean sort of, with no leader, no paddle … We’re going over the Niagara Falls.”

Detlor said chiefs are entitled to their opinions.

“I believe the national chief’s position is that she was legitimately elected and she stands legitimately as the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations,” Detlor said.

In her statement, Archibald thanked Ontario chiefs for passing two resolutions on Thursday validating the election results and her calls for an oversight body for the AFN executive, which is composed of regional chiefs.

“In the coming days, more information will be revealed,” Archibald said.

“What was done in darkness shall always find a way into the light.”

A report dated May 3, 2021 by independent investigator Bryna Hatt into bullying and harassment complaints against Archibald when she was Ontario regional chief involved 10 complaints.

It hit a dead end after the complainants refused to file formal claims because they said they feared workplace retribution. Archibald was not interviewed for the investigation.

The investigator reported that each of the seven complainants was credible and had genuine concerns about pursuing their complaints further.

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