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AFN’s Atleo Gone Rogue? Some Chiefs Think So

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Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo has suggested abandoning both the Indian Act and the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND) as a way of rewriting relations between aboriginals and the federal government.

But some First Nations chiefs are starting to wonder if he’s gone a bit rogue.

A resolution introduced at the organization’s General Assembly between July 11–14 by chiefs from Saskatchewan and Quebec tried to reign in the organization, saying that it’s the chiefs who negotiate such things with the Canadian government, not the AFN, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) reported.

“The chiefs-in-assembly have not mandated the Assembly of First Nations to formally engage in a process with the federal government on their behalf on legislation that impacts and or abrogates inherent and Treaty rights,” said the resolution, according to APTN. “First Nations are the only ones who can negotiate, repeal or amend the Indian Act or negotiate the development of federal legislation with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.”

Russ Diabo, policy analyst and a Mohawk from Kahnawake, told APTN the chiefs were overreacting a bit, pointing out that Atleo clearly sees the chiefs as the impetus behind any changes.

Atleo laid out his case in an op-ed piece in the Ottawa Citizen on July 15. Initially, he said, “First Nations agreed to share the land and live side by side with the newcomers…. It was a relationship founded on mutual recognition, respect and sharing.”

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That relationship worked well in the beginning, he said, but after disease and deprivation had shrunk their ranks, aboriginals were vulnerable to the westward surge of colonization.

“We were in the way,” he said. “The original relationship was conveniently set aside and replaced by the Indian Act in 1876.”

The Indian Act put them under the jurisdiction of Canada’s government, essentially treating them like children, Atleo wrote. What First Nations want, he said, is to “return to the original relationship, fully aware that the country has changed since first contact.”

With more than 200 First Nations negotiating self-government agreements, many are already pushing beyond the Indian Act, he pointed out. In his report released on opening day of the AFN’s three-day General Assembly he recognized the vulnerability inherent in letting go of some of the protections it provides but pointed out that self-determination would allow them to build new, solid institutions that would strengthen communities and nations.

At the assembly, Atleo revealed a letter from Prime Minister Stephen Harper indicating that he too would be willing to hear such a proposal.

At the three-day assembly, held in Moncton, New Brunswick, chiefs from all over Canada met and voted on resolutions on education, health care, finances and water rights, among other issues. The AFN also voted to back the Tsilhqot'in Nation in its fight against the New Prosperity gold and copper mine being proposed on their ancestral land and to request that the Canadian government investigate the impacts of shale gas development, known as hydro-fracking, on First Nation lands.