Native leaders ponder the path of most resistance – by John Ibbitson (Globe and Mail – July 18, 2012)posted in Aboriginal Mining, Aboriginal Non-Mining Issues, Canadian/International Media Resource Articles |
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The Assembly of First Nations, in conclave, inhabits a world not easily recognized by those outside the native community: one of occupation, sovereign rights and resistance. Native leaders passionately embrace that world, which informs the campaigns of the seven challengers seeking to unseat Shawn Atleo as national chief.
But the odds appear to favour Mr. Atleo nonetheless, for the reason expressed by one chief from a Prairie province who was listening at the back of the room. “We have to live with what we’ve got,” he said.
Chiefs speaking candidly in exchange for not being on the record criticized Mr. Atleo for acting as though the AFN were a government and he its first minister, able to speak on behalf of the first nations in negotiations with Ottawa.
He has too often co-operated with the Harper government, they said, when the national chief should be asserting the treaty rights of first nations and their rightful claim to a share of any natural resource wealth.
“The AFN has basically been taken over by lawyers,” accused Manitoba chief Terrance Nelson, one of the challengers.
“In the last few years, the AFN has become a little too comfortable,” said Pamela Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer and professor who is one of the most prominent challengers to Mr. Atleo. “We have to be uncomfortable for the benefit of our people.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Atleo appears to have fairly broad, if reluctant, support among the chiefs, who credit his negotiating skills in helping secure an apology from the Harper government over the treatment of natives in residential schools, in helping convince Ottawa to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in advancing education reform and other issues.
No challenger appears to have moved from the pack to unseat him. The sense in the assembly Tuesday was that he will be re-elected Wednesday. But that does not mean the 600-plus chiefs are happy.
First-nations leaders do not accept that their ancestors ceded any sovereignty over their traditional lands. For them, the federal government is an occupying power, and the tiny pittance they receive from it simply a fraction of the wealth taken from what is still rightfully theirs.
“I’m so done being Canada’s victim,” said Joan Jack, an Anishinaabe lawyer from Manitoba.
Mr. Atleo seemed aware that he is vulnerable among chiefs who feel he has not been sufficiently fierce in his advocacy.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/native-leaders-ponder-the-path-of-most-resistance/article4424467/