Atleo allies try to salvage meeting
OTTAWA—The relationship between Canada’s First Nations and the federal government remained up in the air late this morning, with a vocal faction of chiefs refusing to support National Chief Shawn Atleo and attend a scheduled meeting with Stephen Harper.
Other chiefs insisted the meeting with the prime minister must—and will—go ahead.
To add to the pressure, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence said she will persist with her month-long, no-solid-food protest that became a catalyst for many chiefs, as well as “Idle No More” activists, who were taking to the streets to show their support.
One First Nations’ leader—Gordon Peters of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians—renewed a threat of widespread disruption next week unless Harper and Gov.-Gen. David Johnston come to a downtown Ottawa hotel to meet the chiefs on their own terms.
First Nations would move to “stop roads, rails, transportation of goods,” Peters vowed.
“We just have to walk out on our land and stop it.”
But more moderate voices also were beginning to speak up, publicly exposing their discomfort with the threatened boycott and expressing support for Atleo’s plan to meet with Harper in his office later in the day.
“I’m really troubled by what looks to be a breakdown in discipline,” said Grand Chief Doug Kelly of the First Nations Summit in British Columbia, a staunch Atleo ally.
He said the appearance of division is being spurred by a “handful” of chiefs from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Ontario, and does not reflect the negotiating mandate that chiefs have granted Atleo to speak on their behalf to the prime minister.
“We didn’t vote for Theresa Spence as national chief,” Kelly noted.
Chiefs from Quebec and the East Coast say they want to go with the national chief to meet the prime minister—if only to tell him they have little confidence in his government.
Nova Scotia’s regional chief, Morley Googoo, said it’s Spence who should resign, along with her ally—and Atleo rival—Pam Palmater, for creating chaos and division within the Assembly of First Nations by imposing irrational demands on the AFN leaders.
And one leader known for his hard-line approach in the past spoke up in favour of the Harper meeting, urging First Nations’ unity and backing Atleo’s methods of handling the talks.
Cree Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come—a former national chief who still has a circle of support—said he didn’t come to Ottawa just to join a protest.
“If we are going to solve and deal with the First Nations’ issues in this country, we need to have a table where we can iron out and put our demand to the prime minister,” he reasoned.
“We are prepared to go to a meeting and put our demands on the table,” Coon Come told reporters.
The Prime Minister’s Office reiterated it still is ready to meet, on terms earlier agreed to by the AFN.
“The prime minister remains available to meet on the basis previously agreed to,” said spokeswoman Julie Vaux.