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From the periphery, the annual Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Special Chiefs Assembly (SCA) – please verse yourself in the appropriate acronyms – will happen and there will be little understanding of the dialogue and impact on First Nations across Canada outside the event. It begs the question: why is there so little understanding about the single organization that advocates for First Nation leadership across Canada?

The problem is that First Nation issues are commonly viewed through a lens of colonialism. Even as the AFN recognizes and debates issues, it continues to recognize Indian Act leadership – a system that was imposed on First Nations people.

Still, the AFN is an important gathering established by First Nation leaders from coast to coast to coast – people who knew/know that legislation and policies we were subject to was wrong, even in colonial systems. The founders of the AFN came together and through ceremony and traditional knowledge (as well as colonial knowledge) to create a place and space for ideas and advocacy with an Indigenous perspective. The AFN has maintained that position for over 40 years.

The Special Chiefs Assembly provides a forum to discuss pending legislation (or the possibility of legislation) and determine a common position. The SCA is also an opportunity for ideas and experiences to be shared and to continue the tradition of building relationships and networks.

As our demographic continues to grow and our youth continue to be educated, First Nations people are taking their space in society. Their voices will add to leadership and be heard by legislators, policy makers, influencers and First Nation leaders. Many are fiercely grounded in their culture and use their knowledge of both traditional and non-traditional systems to advance their concerns, ideas and solutions.

The AFN Assembly is a place for chiefs to have their voices heard. I’ll be listening – and sharing my opinions (as will many others) throughout the week.

Want to keep up on the AFN Assembly (or just learn about the best places to eat in Ottawa)? Follow @bonsjl on Twitter.