Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Alteo speaks during a news conference Thursday April 10

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Alteo speaks during a news conference Thursday April 10

Shawn Atleo resigns as AFN national chief

Shawn Atleo abruptly resigns as national chief of Assembly of First Nations

  • May. 2, 2014 6:00 p.m.

By Steve Rennie, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Shawn Atleo stepped down Friday as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, ending a tumultuous term that began in high hopes but finished with faltering support and charges he was too cosy with the Harper government.

At a hastily assembled news conference Friday in Ottawa, Atleo said he wanted to avoid being a distraction in the ongoing — and intensifying — debate over the federal government’s proposed changes to First Nations education.

“This work is too important, and I’m not prepared to be an obstacle to it or a lightning rod distracting from the kids and their potential,” Atleo said.

“I am therefore today resigning as national chief.”

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt has defended Bill C-33, dubbed the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, saying it meets the five conditions outlined by the AFN and chiefs during a meeting in December.

But some First Nations groups have been critical of Atleo for supporting a Conservative government bill aimed at reforming aboriginal education. They say if passed, the legislation would strip away their rights and give the federal government too much control over the education of their children.

But Atleo — who did not take questions — insisted that the work must continue.

“I challenge every party and every First Nation to carry this work forward. Failure is simply not an option,” he said.

“Fighting for the status quo is simply not acceptable.”

It was not immediately clear Friday who would replace Atleo as national chief. The assembly is now in the process of determining how and when a new leader will be chosen.

Rumours of Atleo’s departure had been swirling in recent days, but the writing had been on the wall for some time.

Atleo’s support was weakened when he agreed to meet with the prime minister at the height of the Idle No More protest movement in January 2013, but he was able to convene a national assembly as usual last December and managed to win a mandate to discuss an education package with the government.

By the time Atleo and Harper appeared together at a reserve in Alberta this past February, the AFN board had generally coalesced behind Atleo and supported his initiative. But it wouldn’t last.

Even though Harper included nearly $2 billion in new school funding in the February federal budget, Atleo’s support among First Nations chiefs was eroding.

Faced with pressure from outspoken critics of Atleo’s negotiations with the prime minister and a deeply rooted mistrust of the federal government’s role in First Nations education, one by one, the regional chiefs broke away.

Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations was the latest to announce his opposition to the federal legislation, earlier this week. That — combined with a growing push for a “special assembly” to address the education bill — was likely the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The federal government, for its part, is widely expected to push forward with its legislation anyway, inviting any band who wants to co-operate to join in the new regime once it is set up.

Still, at a time when Harper wants to smooth government relations with First Nations in the hopes of paving the way for pipelines and natural resource development, sources say he has lost a key ally.

“There is no question First Nations are in an important period of transition and moving away from governance under the Indian Act,” Jody Wilson-Raybould, regional chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, said in a statement.

“This work is not easy but progress must and will continue. Partnership and co-operation between and among First Nations is essential. As is co-operation among Parliament.

“We need a results driven non-partisan approach to recognition and reconciliation which will ensure, among other things, First Nations control of First Nations education.”

In a statement Friday, Harper sounded a note of genuine remorse.

“Since 2009, when he was first elected as national chief, our government worked closely with him to strengthen our historic relationship,” he said.

“National Chief Atleo was a conciliator and strengthened the relationship between First Nations and the Crown. As the Hereditary Chief from the Ahousaht First Nation, he showed leadership to his nation and all First Nations across Canada.”

Indeed, it was on his strength as a skilled negotiator that the now 47-year-old Atleo was first elected national chief in 2009.

The seeds of discontent were sown after a high-profile Crown First Nations Gathering in early 2012. Some within the aboriginal community grew increasingly frustrated with what they perceived as government inaction in the weeks and months after the meeting.

Nonetheless, Atleo was re-elected for a second term in mid-2012.

By late 2012, the anger and frustration of many First Nations had manifested itself in the Idle No More protest movement — a period of tremendous pressure on Atleo, who fell ill and took a brief leave of absence at the height of the crisis.

Just Posted

Colwood council is looking at potential summer weekend closures to traffic of a section of Ocean Boulevard at Esquimalt Lagoon, to allow for more of a park-like setting during summer events such as the popular Eats & Beats event, shown here in 2018. (Black Press Media file photo)
Mayor lobbying for summer weekend closures of beachfront Colwood roadway

Rob Martin to bring motion forward to June 28 council meeting

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

The City of Victoria is once again offering $50,000 for selected neighbourhood enhancement projects, through its participatory budgeting program. (Courtesy City of Victoria)
Victoria neighbourhoods can earn city funding for projects

Up to $50,000 available for initiatives that enhance, enrich neighbourhoods

The Victoria Royals will return to the Save-on-Foods Memorial Arena for the first time since the 2019-20 campaign when they open next season against the Vancouver Giants on Oct. 2. (Black Press Media file photo)
Fans expected in the Save-On stands for Victoria Royals’ Oct. 2 home opener

It’ll be the first Western Hockey League action at the arena since March 2020

Police are looking for witnesses and video footage after a crash on June 18. (Photo courtesy of West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP looking for videos related to Corvette crash

Driver believed to have fled the scene of View Royal crash

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

Emergency vehicles are parked outside of the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni RCMP investigate stabbing on Fourth Avenue

Two men were found with ‘significant’ injuries near Wintergreen Apartments

Bernadette Jordan addresses the media following a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on January 14, 2019. Jordan says the government will provide $2 million to allow First Nations to continue to strengthen the marine safety system across Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
First Nations receive federal funds to purchase marine rescue boats

Quatsino, Heiltsuk, and Kitasoo First Nation’s among eight across Canada to receive funding

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctors urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

The Coquihalla Lakes washroom is getting upgrades. (Submitted)
Coquihalla to get upgrades to aging washrooms

The Ministry of Transportation is providing $1 million in funding to upgrade 3 rest areas

Most Read