AFN national chief calls outside probe of her workplace conduct 'colonial' and 'confrontational'

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald speaks during her closing address at the national advocacy organization's Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa on Dec. 8, 2022. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald speaks during her closing address at the national advocacy organization's Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa on Dec. 8, 2022. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald claims the workplace misconduct investigation probing her treatment of staff is following a "colonial path" because its non-Indigenous investigators could "demonize" Indigenous cultural practices.

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) launched an external investigation of Archibald's conduct last spring after four of her senior staff and the AFN's outgoing CEO accused her of bullying and harassment.

In a memo sent on Jan. 26 to chiefs-in-assembly, Archibald called the probe a "colonial legal process" that distracts from the AFN's real work.

"I have met the investigators and am concerned that they're non-Indigenous and may not have a grounding in our traditional practices and ways of being which could easily lead us down a colonial path of having this process demonize our cultural practices," she wrote in the memo, which was obtained by CBC News.

"This kind of non-Indigenous investigation is antagonistic, confrontational, and moves us further away from bringing healing and harmony to our working relationships."

In the memo, Archibald accused the investigators of withholding information from her and her legal counsel — such as which sections of the Canada Labour Code and the AFN's own workplace personnel and ethics codes she's alleged to have breached.

"I'm not being given access to what I need to defend myself against these allegations," Archibald wrote.

Archibald also criticized the investigation's terms of reference, which she said overlook her alleged refusal to approve a payout of than $1 million to the four staff who filed complaints against her and what she calls the "toxic and fear-based management practices" at the AFN.

National chief questions fairness of investigation

The memo, labelled "confidential," was sent in response to a video presented at the last AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa on Dec. 6 by Raquel Chisholm, a partner with law firm Emond Harnden. Chisholm was hired by the the AFN to investigate the allegations against Archibald.

Chisholm told the chiefs-in-assembly that Archibald hadn't made herself available for an interview, despite repeated requests to sit down with her between August and December 2022. Chisholm said Archibald cited concerns about the fairness of the process.

Archibald said in the memo that neither she nor members of her legal team were allowed to view Chisholm's video before it was played to the chiefs-in-assembly. She said that prevented her from providing a detailed response.

Archibald said she's been targeted by complaints because she has pursued allegations of corruption within the AFN, which receives tens of millions of dollars annually from the federal government.

The AFN told CBC News it does not comment on human resource matters and refused to comment on Archibald's memo.

In her email to chiefs-in-assembly, Archibald included a chronology of events involving the investigators and David Shiller, her legal counsel. Shiller has suggested that the probe is a "political exercise meant to discredit and harm the national chief," says the memo.

Archibald wants probe finalized by end of February: legal counsel

The chronology says Shiller asked the investigators to identify the evidence they're examining for each of the five complaints.

It also says Shiller asked the investigators for more time to arrange a sit-down interview with Archibald, citing the unexpected death of her brother.

Archibald faced a separate external investigation in 2020 when she was Ontario regional chief.

While the investigator in that probe found the allegations against her were "credible," the investigation was dropped because none of the complainants wanted to file official complaints.

Bobby Hristova/CBC
Bobby Hristova/CBC

Aaron Detlor, another member of Archibald's legal team, said Archibald wants to see the investigation wrap up by the end of February.

"The anticipation is that various steps will be concluded and those steps are going to be concluded in what everyone agrees is important, to have a fair, equitable and accountable process that's got some level of transparency," Detlor said.

Detlor wouldn't explain what those various steps are. He said there's heavy pressure on Archibald's schedule right now, following the discovery of what are believed to be unmarked graves near the former sites of residential schools.

"The scheduling and approaches that might seem reasonable and appropriate in a corporate context and a commercial context aren't the types of approaches that are reasonable for a national chief who's got to serve something in the range of 600 communities across the country, many of whom are dealing with extremely traumatic events," he said.

"Everyone, including the national chief, has been personally touched by these issues."