Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Well before the official call came for nominations to run for the position of national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), David Pratt offered up his name.
“I was so quick out of the gate because I wanted to get the word out right away that I was, number one, serious about running… and number two, I wanted to run because I really, really, really feel that I can make a difference,” said Pratt, vice-chief with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) in Saskatchewan.
Pratt announced his intentions on Aug. 16.
Pratt believes the chiefs’ voices have been lost in the organization in recent years. That power needs to be returned to the chiefs, says Pratt.
AFN was originally formed with its primary focus on self determination, sovereignty and treaty implementation, as well as settling outstanding land claims and dealing with natural resources, he says.
“I think we need to bring back that primary focus again where we are supporting our member nations as they're moving forward on their various types of self-government agreements and self-determination pathways, but also dealing with the land questions that all of them are struggling with from coast to coast to coast,” said Pratt.
He believes that building consensus around issues will strengthen the AFN as an organization, a style of leadership that he says the FSIN employs.
Pratt sees consensus building as a “collective voice, collective sovereignty.”
“We've got to bring our chiefs together. There's strength in numbers. We've got to bring our chiefs together around our collective issues, whether it's lands and resources, whether it's education, whether it's water, whether it's the fisheries. We’ve got to support our brothers and sisters,” he said.
Pratt leans heavily on the work that has been undertaken by AFN’s Chiefs Committee on Charter Renewal for the structural changes he thinks need to happen with the organization. However, in the July annual general assembly, the committee reported that there was still considerable work to be done before any substantive changes could occur.
Pratt says he’s hearing that chiefs want the organization to be more streamlined. They also want business to be the priority at general assemblies.
To that end, Pratt is proposing a measure that is being undertaken by FSIN. He wants to see resolutions dealt with during the first two days of the three-day assembly before quorum is lost. He adds that a clerk of the assembly, such as what FSIN has, would ensure resolutions are properly vetted, no actions are duplicated, and progress reports are made.
Pratt says he’s met with Treaty 8 chiefs in Alberta and “heard their frustrations” that they don’t believe their voices are reflected in resolutions that speak to treaty rights.
Alberta hasn’t had a regional chief since 2021 and many Treaty 8 nations in the province don’t want to be involved with the AFN.
While Pratt would like to see Alberta and Treaty 8 chiefs come back to the organization, he’s also clear that it’s not his job to direct them.
“That’s paternalism of the past. That's what got us into all this. That's what has to end,” said Pratt.
Instead, he says, as a national organization, AFN can assist Treaty 8 in setting up their own rights recognition tables with Crown-Indigenous Relations Canada, as well as open doors in Ottawa to the relevant government ministers.
“It's important that Alberta has a political voice and a voice at the table and it needs to be a part of these discussions,” said Pratt.
To bring relevancy back to the organization, Pratt contends that the AFN has to show the grassroots that work is getting done. That will involve more than giving chiefs a stronger voice in the organization and with resolutions on the floor.
It’s about “showing our people that we are there. Every time we meet. Every day fighting for their behalf to improve housing, to address crystal meth and opioids. To push for climate change, emergency management and justice. The list just goes on and on and on,” said Pratt.
It’s about doing the practical work, he says, finding solutions to the problems that people are facing.
“We restore the credibility back, get the chiefs back. And then we show our people at the grassroots level that, ‘Hey, we're back. Business is moving. We see you, we hear you and we're working every day on your behalf to try and improve outcomes for our people,’” said Pratt.
With a federal election not even two years away and with the federal Conservatives showing strong in recent polls extending their lead over the federal Liberals, Pratt says he sees a potential new government as an “opportunity.”
“All we can do is work with (Conservatives). Find the common ground. I think that the Conservative government has made economic development one of their priorities (and leader Pierre Poilievre) has talked about resource revenue sharing,” said Pratt.
From the oil and gas sector in British Columbia and the prairie provinces to critical minerals in Ontario’s Ring of Fire, these are potential areas First Nations can work with a Conservative government on, Pratt said.
“But also be working together to ensure climate change is respected. Climate change is real,” said Pratt pointing to the record-setting wildfires this past season. The Conservatives have yet to release a strategy to combat climate change.
“Our hand is open to work with (the party),” he said.
Exercising jurisdiction across all policy areas is foremost to Pratt’s platform.
When it comes to industry, he says, “consent, consent, consent” is required before any work is done in First Nations’ territory. Also important is equity partnerships that pay dividends.
“Our people don't want trinkets and window dressing and tokens. We want owner equity within resource development projects. We want to own the mines. We want to own the hydro lines. We want to have a stake in the pipelines and any type of a development that's happening in our backyard,” said Pratt.
And if consent isn’t received, Pratt says he’ll stand alongside chiefs in their actions.
“I'm not opposed to resource development, but if the chiefs are going to blockade because industry is not listening, I'll be on the front line with them getting arrested. And we'll have the news media there from around the world,” he said.
Pratt sees his strong record with the FSIN as something that will easily carry over to a new role as leader of the AFN.
In 2017 as vice-chief with FSIN, he received the mandate to establish a health ombudsperson office to improve health outcomes and deal with the discrimination First Nations people face in the Saskatchewan healthcare system.
Every time the federal government asked him about FSIN’s priorities, Pratt would reply “like a broken record…health ombudsperson.”
The office opened in October.
“I'm very proud of the work that we did collectively on all of that to make that happen, and I think it was because of the collective voice of FSIN. But also the importance that all the chiefs and everybody saw, the importance of this office being established, especially in light of what happened with Joyce Echaquan,” said Pratt. Echaquan died in a hospital in Quebec shortly after livestreaming the racist mistreatment she faced from staff.
Pratt also co-chaired the Chiefs Committee on Health for the AFN.
The bottom line, he says, is the children.
“As long as we put the kids first—kids are gifts from the Creator—Creator will bless that work. That's what I'm going to continue to do as I move forward should I be successful as national chief, and I'm confident I will be with the good support of our chiefs and leadership across this country,” said Pratt.
For more information about David Pratt go to https://www.davidprattafn.org/
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