A dissenting group of chiefs, angry with the slow pace of treaty negotiations and the conduct of the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations, is gathering in Saskatchewan this week to talk about forming a splinter group, even as national chief Shawn Atleo holds the AFN’s national meeting in Whitehorse.
But some of those who will be with Mr. Atleo in the Yukon capital are calling for a re-examination of his leadership after two meetings he had this year with Prime Minister Stephen Harper put him at odds with a number of the leaders of the First Nations he represents.
Alvin Fiddler, the deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in Northern Ontario, will arrive in Whitehorse with a motion that aims to strengthen the National Chief’s accountability to his people. It calls on the AFN’s Council of Elders to investigate the events leading up to a contentious meeting on Jan. 11 between Mr. Atleo and Mr. Harper – one that took place during the hunger strike of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and over the objection of many chiefs who said it was not being held on their terms. The motion also asks the elders to look into another meeting between Mr. Atleo and Mr. Harper in June about which, according to the motion’s preamble, the chiefs were “kept in the dark.”
“I think we have concerns with the AFN, with the national chief, in terms of how he’s conducted himself, especially to do with these meetings with the Prime Minister. They are almost like secret meetings. We don’t hear about them until after the fact through the media,” Mr. Fiddler said Monday. “There has to be a greater transparency at this point, and accountability back to our leadership and back to our communities about what this organization is doing for us.”
Mr. Fiddler’s motion is being entered late and it is unclear whether the chiefs attending the meeting will allow it to be heard. But it is representative of a frustration with Mr. Atleo that has been expressed by a number of First Nations leaders – and which was being voiced last year before he was re-elected to a second three-year term with a strong mandate.
The AFN is an advocacy group that represents the diverse interests of Canada’s 614 First Nations, but has no authority to negotiate directly on their behalf when it comes to settling issues that affect individual communities, including treaty rights and the sharing of resource revenue.
Some of the chiefs who are boycotting the meeting in Whitehorse by attending the one in Saskatchewan accuse Mr. Atleo of overstepping those bounds. And Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, is proposing the creation of a new group called the National Treaty Alliance.
But Mr. Atleo, who denies negotiating for the First Nations, will give a speech Tuesday to the chiefs gathered in the Yukon saying this is a time for them to stand strong and unified.
“We have an inherent responsibility to our lands, waters and peoples – and we have inherent rights as nations to work in full respect with one another and as equal partners with other governments,” he will say in the speech, a copy of which was distributed to some media outlets. “Across all areas and territories we can work together based on respect for our diversity while supporting one another on a path to our shared goals. We will not play the old games of divide and conquer.”