Panel to hear stories about gender-based discrimination to determine if AFN has systemic issues

It’s still too early, say the members of a special independent panel, to determine if sexual orientation and gender-based discrimination is systemic at the Assembly of First Nations.

That may be made clear through a series of upcoming zoom information sessions in November.

“We’re entering into these interviews with a very open mind and open heart and we want to hear what people have to say,” said panel member Debbie Hoffman, who anticipates the zoom sessions will lead to follow-up personal interviews.

Hoffman is joined by Dr. Gwendolyn Point and Amanda Barnaby-Lehoux on a three-member panel tasked with making recommendations to implement Resolution 13, “Becoming a role model in ending sexual orientation and gender-based discrimination with the Assembly of First Nations.”

The goal of the panel’s recommendations, in accordance with Resolution 13, is “to end sexual orientation and gender-based discrimination and all other forms of violence, including sexualized violence, lateral-violence, bullying and cyber-bullying in the organization.”

Panel members would not comment on the heated discussion that took place when the resolution was passed in December 2020. Some of that discussion included calls to water down the resolution by changing the work of the panel from an “investigative review” to an “evaluation.”

However, the resolution’s movers, Khelsilem of the Squamish Nation and Doris Bill, chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, refused to allow any amendments that would downgrade the resolution.

Then Ontario regional chief RoseAnne Archibald, who is now the national chief, spoke passionately in favour of the resolution. She would later share she had experienced backlash for her comments shortly after.

The resolution received a favourable vote of 78 per cent, although the number of chiefs who voted was not made known. The AFN represents more than 600 First Nations.

Panel members said they would not comment on the politics of the resolution.

“I’m just here to do the good work for the 78 per cent—or actually the 100 per cent—of all the chiefs and the people who have been impacted by any of the sexual discrimination or harassment that we might see,” said Barnaby-Lehoux, who was appointed to her position by the Youth Council in October 2021.

The resolution called for the youth, knowledge keepers and women’s councils to each appoint a member.

The panel is in its second iteration.

Previous members “had to step down for other reasons,” said Point, the only original member remaining. She was selected by the Knowledge Keepers Council in early 2021.

Hoffman was appointed by the Women’s Council this past February.

All three members come with strong backgrounds.

Point, from the Stó:lō Nation, has been the Knowledge Keeper for the British Columbia AFN since 2015. She has also held a number of provincial government and regional posts supporting education, child and family services, and First Nations communities.

Hoffman is Métis with her mother from the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation. Previously, she had been appointed by the Yukon government to a six-person panel to conduct an investigative review of the child welfare system in the territory.

Barnaby-Lehoux is Mi’gmaq from the Listuguj First Nation. Having practised family law in Alberta, she now resides in Quebec.

“Looking back when I got into law it was to help those who couldn’t necessarily help themselves and effect change for First Nations communities, for women, for those who just couldn’t defend themselves,” said Barnaby-Lehoux. “(This) is exactly the kind of work I thought I would want to do that never quite came across my desk. So now to have this opportunity, it’s something I do take very seriously and I take an immense amount of pride in.”

The panel to date has conducted research, says Point, examining not only AFN’s policies, but policies in place by other governments, First Nations and “anything that’s public.”

Hoffman says definitions and terminologies in the AFN’s policies may need to be changed or expanded and “that’s something we’re going to be doing when we look at anything, just making commentary on how to be more inclusive when we’re looking at things like discrimination, bullying, lateral violence, that kind of thing.”

Barnaby-Lehoux says recommendations will also look at how to make changes.

“We want the language in the document itself to be inclusive, but also to mirror whatever findings we ultimately see, to ensure that the issues that make this are addressed in those policies, in those manuals, to give people the proper tools moving forward to ensure that these don’t continue, should they be found,” she said.

Hoffman says although she doesn’t anticipate any recommendations will be about “holding people accountable in the traditional sense” for past actions, she does say that the stories that arise from the personal meetings will be about “things that have already happened.”

“Based on our discussions, it would mean that we are using the past experiences to form those recommendations to make future changes and create future policies within the organization,” said Barnaby-Lehoux.

The first zoom meeting is this Friday, with two more to follow on Nov. 21 and Nov. 25. Personal discussions aren’t expected at those times but instead will be shared in private sessions. Both cultural and emotional support will be made available.

These zoom sessions, says Barnaby-Lehoux, will likely discuss potential recommendations.

The sessions will also provide an opportunity for people to see “our faces, knowing that we’re creating this safe space. That it’s (an) independent (process). We work alone. We don’t answer or report to anyone at this time. It’s confidential…All those things are important,” said Point.

The panel made a brief zoom report at the Special Chiefs Assembly this past July. Hoffman doesn’t expect to be presenting again at the December SCA. The next presentation will be at the SCA in July 2023.

At that time, says Barnaby-Lehoux, the final report and its recommendations are expected.

It’s a “bit too soon” for the panel to offer up any timeframe as to when or how recommendations will be implemented, says Barnaby-Lehoux.

“That comes down to more research and what we get in terms of stories, but likely based on best practices, there will be timeframes associated with (the implementation of recommendations),” she said.

Windspeaker.com

By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com