VANCOUVER — Dressed in Indigenous regalia, National Chief RoseAnne Archibald strode into the annual Assembly of First Nations gathering in Vancouver ahead of a group of chanting supporters on Tuesday.
Just the day before, Archibald said she had been "erased" from the agenda after her suspension in June.
Instead, she led opening ceremonies and welcomed attendees in her opening address.
"There will be a lot that is discussed later, and I won't touch on any of that now," she said, referring to her suspension.
The annual meeting comes as members of the Assembly of First Nations executive urged the 2,400 delegates in a statement not to allow the human resource complaints involving Archibald to "overshadow the real and ongoing work that is required on behalf of the First Nations people."
"The committee further calls on the national chief to immediately cease any actions and statements that amount to serious breaches of the confidentiality and privacy interests of AFN employees, service providers and others, including making broad allegations of misconduct," the statement said.
The executive believes the actions are damaging, unlawful and inappropriate, the statement said.
Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow, in whose territory the meeting is being held, asked in his opening statement that all attendees be respectful.
"When I came in, I had some of the elders come up. There were some signs that were there that are not appropriate in our territory. No matter what your opinion is, to see words like that is very hurtful to our elders and our leadership,” he said.
Archibald echoed his request, saying she "disavowed" any disrespectful signs and called swearing a "form of verbal violence."
"Those are not the people who support me. The people who support me want change. The people who support me want to see us walk forward together in a good way. The people who support me love and care for our people," she told the crowd of delegates.
Archibald has alleged she was attacked for trying to investigate corruption within the assembly and called for a forensic audit of the organization for the last eight years.
The assembly's executive committee said on June 17 that she was suspended with pay during an investigation into four complaints against her by her staff.
Archibald has said her suspension is a violation of the assembly’s charter and a means to intimidate, punish and silence her over her claims of the possible misuse of public funds by the assembly.
"Obviously, I'm calling on our friends for an audit and an independent investigation into the AFN and I'm asking chiefs and grassroots people to talk to their chiefs to ensure that a forensic audit happens as well as an independent investigation into the corruption and toxicity at AFN," she said before she entered the assembly Tuesday.
She said her entire career has been about transparency, accountability and truth.
"You look at every organization that I've ever touched, and I've always left those organizations in a better way. AFN needs to be cleaned up, it needs to be healed and it's part of my life's work of transparency, accountability and truth."
She said she will say more in her conference speech.
A draft resolution before the assembly asks that Archibald be removed from the office and a new election be held because she didn’t receive the required 60 per cent of votes cast when she was elected last year.
Chief Wendy Jocko of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation says on social media she is also bringing an emergency resolution to the floor calling for an immediate end to the “unsubstantiated and unlawful suspension" of Archibald.
The assembly meeting's theme is “walking the healing path,” and comes a day after the AFN announced a $20-billion settlement to compensate First Nations children and their families over the harms caused by chronic underfunding of child welfare on reserves.
AFN regional chief Cindy Woodhouse, the lead negotiator on the child welfare agreement for the assembly, said the leadership issue isn't affecting her work.
"First Nations go through turbulent times at times, but I know that we've been through so many things historically and I think that this work is so important that it will keep moving forward."
— With files from Sarah Ritchie.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.
Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press