Friday, October 31, 2014

First Nations will unite against the status quo: Atleo

VANCOUVER—Chief Shawn Atleo returned to the helm of the Assembly of First Nations yesterday adamant that aboriginal groups across the country are united against a common enemy: the status quo.
Acknowledging differing opinions within the assembly membership, Atleo, who was sidelined 10 days ago by doctor-ordered sick leave, said he never expected unanimity as the “Idle No More” protest movement gained momentum.

“We are a diverse people—52 languages, 633 First Nations—and with this rich diversity comes a wide variety of ideas about how we move forward,” Atleo told reporters after being honoured at a meeting of the assembly’s B.C. chiefs.
“But make no mistake, on principles of substance, we are unified,” he vowed.
“We want to see the Crown come meaningfully to the table and address the outstanding treaty relationship.”
Atleo, who turned 46 during his brief leave, urged the federal government to take advantage of the opportunity created by the “Idle No More” movement, which has seen thousands of First Nations take to the streets.
“We also must ensure that we never give any government an excuse to ignore our demands because we’re not clear, because our message is confused,” he stressed.
“We must ensure that we never let governments use division or disunity as an excuse for delay or inaction,” added Atleo, who looked tired but said he is feeling well after being laid low with norovirus.
Atleo thanked Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who just ended a six-week hunger strike, for her “powerful message” and contribution to the movement.
There was speculation about the national chief’s role after he announced Jan. 14 he was taking sick leave—days after agreeing to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Atleo came under fire from some for meeting with Harper in Ottawa.
Chiefs from Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan boycotted the meeting, from which Atleo emerged with a commitment from Harper to further treaty talks in the coming weeks.
Manitoba chiefs, along with some of their counterparts from Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories, met behind closed doors earlier this week in Winnipeg.
Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said yesterday the chiefs don’t want political in-fighting within the AFN, but have some questions for Atleo.
“Where the challenges present themselves is in the fact that we’re working with a Canadian government that wants to speak just with Shawn Atleo . . . in a process toward treaty implementation at high levels,” Nepinak told reporters.
“Treaties weren’t discussed and negotiated at high levels,” he noted. “Treaties were negotiated amongst our people.”
Chiefs from the region are planning a special meeting in March in Saskatoon and want Atleo to attend.

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