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AFN chiefs sidestep discussing ways to oust Atleo

Shawn Atleo is national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.


Regional chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations were preparing to discuss the process for holding a non-confidence vote against National Chief Shawn Atleo during a conference call Thursday but a spokesman for the native organization said topic did not end up being raised.

Some chiefs are fuming about his decision to hold talks last week with Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the AFN executive continues to meet under the chairmanship of Roger Augustine, the regional chief for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. One of the subjects that was supposed to be on the agenda of the teleconference among executive committee members was the method for holding a no-confidence vote as spelled out in the AFN charter.

Mr. Atleo is taking time off work to recuperate from a severe bout of stomach flu and exhaustion.

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The issue of his removal has been brewing since Mr. Atleo opted to attend last Friday's meeting over the objections of chiefs who said it was being conducted on Mr. Harper's terms and not those set by the first nations.

Mr.. Augustine said Thursday that the chiefs would be talking about "procedure, what it will take to do something like that ... We are going to be asking our lawyers what are the legalities, what are the procedures if it comes to play."

Asked which of the regional chiefs sought to have the matter discussed, Mr. Augustine replied: "Nobody. It's just another day at the office."

But a spokesman for the AFN said Friday that the discussion did not go ahead.

Mr. Harper limited the AFN delegation to between 30 and 35 people, even though hundreds of chiefs wanted to attend. And he refused to allow Governor-General David Johnston to be present as demanded by Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat, now into her fifth week of a hunger strike.

The regional chiefs of Manitoba, Ontario, the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan ended up boycotting the meeting. But Mr. Augustine did not. "We requested the meeting and the Prime Minister's Office responded," he said. "And it's only proper protocol and respect to attend the meeting that you have asked for."

Supporters of Mr. Atleo say the no-confidence motion is being pushed by those whose candidates lost the election last July in which Mr. Atleo returned as AFN leader with more than 60 per cent of the vote. To be successful, a no-confidence motion would also have to garner 60 per cent of the vote at a special assembly.

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Despite the executive committee's decision to explore the rules around a no-confidence vote, Mr. Augustine said he does not believe there is much appetite to hold one. "I think a lot of the chiefs are saying now, 'OK, so he met with the Prime Minister even though we didn't support it, but we are going to take advantage of it.' "

Mr. Atleo came out of the meeting with Mr. Harper saying he had secured the Prime Minister's commitment to take a direct hand in dealing with first-nations issues.

But many of the chiefs who did not want the meeting to proceed dismissed its outcome as inconsequential.

In Manitoba, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak says the first nations in his province will find ways to go forward without the help of the AFN. Mr. Nepinak has called for a meeting in Winnipeg next Tuesday to discuss treaty negotiations and has invited first nations in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and the Northwest Territories.

Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Anishinabek Nation in Ontario was among those who argued that the meeting with the Prime Minister should have been cancelled.

"The National Chief and the executives that went over to that meeting did so against the large segment of the people" who attended a meeting of chiefs in Ottawa last week, Mr. Madahbee said Thursday. "There is a question of trust here now. I can't predict what's going to happen. That's up to the chiefs. But I think there is a tremendous problem right now with the Assembly of First Nations and with his [Mr. Atleo's] leadership."

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