Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo announced his resignation on Friday May 2, citing a standoff with the Canadian government over the controversial First Nations Education Act.
Noting that Indigenous Peoples of Canada have been advocating for “Indian control of Indian education” since 1972, he said that “smashing the status quo” is the only way forward, and that children’s education should be paramount.
“I have fought for this work and to achieve this mandate,” he said in a statement. “This work is too important and I am not prepared to be an obstacle to it or a lightening rod distracting from the kids and their potential. I am therefore, today resigning as National Chief.”
The First Nations Education Act has been sparking controversy since before it was drafted, when in 2011 Atleo was criticized for working with the ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to put together a panel to overhaul the country’s education policies for Indigenous Peoples.
When the final legislation was introduced late last year, First Nations almost unilaterally decried its inadequate funding and lack of attention to issues important to indigenous people. Even Atleo condemned it.
But many said he crossed a line in forging ahead with the panel and initially supporting the legislation, which was hailed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, and at first Atleo as well, as historic. Not everyone agreed. Claiming that both Atleo and Harper had been acting outside their respective mandate and scope of power, Palmater said Atleo should tear up the Act.
“[I]t's the deal that no First Nation asked for, and it's one that Atleo had no power to make,” she wrote on Rabble.ca. “It's historic because not only will Atleo go down in history as the worst National Chief, but he has taken the AFN down with him.”
Other responses were more tempered.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Atleo felt he could not carry through in his role as National Chief when there are so many critical issues facing our peoples,” said the Grand Chief Gordon Peters of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, in a statement. “The announcement this afternoon does not change our responsibility to ensure that we protect our children’s education. We will stay the course and not allow the federal government to divest its responsibilities through its legislative process. We respect Mr. Atleo as an individual and we thank his family and his community for allowing him to spend the past five years in the role of National Chief.”
Atleo was midway through his second term, which he won in 2012.
Critics had been looking for a harder line from Atleo in working with the Canadian government, and others had sought a great role for women in AFN leadership.