As former chief sues Assembly of First Nations, minister says Ottawa won't weigh in

OTTAWA — The federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations says Ottawa's role is not to govern the internal accountability of the Assembly of First Nations, as its former chief launches a lawsuit against the advocacy group.

Gary Anandasangaree said in an interview Thursday that the AFN is a trusted, "valued partner" for the federal government, and he wouldn't weigh in on the legal case.

RoseAnne Archibald, who was ousted from the post as national chief last July, is suing the Assembly of First Nations and its executive for defamation and breach of contract.

In a statement of claim filed this month, Archibald alleged the Assembly of First Nations and its executive engaged in a "number of illegal and unlawful steps" against her, including suspending her as national chief.

After her election, Archibald called for the advocacy body to hire a forensic accounting firm to review its books.

The suit alleges the executive — which includes current national Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak — then "embarked on a campaign to sideline her and ultimately oust her as national chief."

"As a result of the above conduct, Ms. Archibald suffered damages which include defamation of character, unreimbursed legal fees, loss of income and pain and suffering," the statement of claim says.

The Assembly of First Nations said it won't comment until the matter is resolved through a legal process.

Asked about the forensic audit, Anandasangaree said there are accountability mechanisms built into funding agreements with the federal government, "and the AFN is no different."

But the way the federal government approaches its relationship with the assembly is built on the "element of trust," he said.

"The primary conversation is not about accountability. The primary focus is about the relationship, and we are very confident that relationship is strong."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 20, 2024.

Alessia Passafiume, The Canadian Press