Atleo aims for unity following fractious AFN election campaign

By Jorge Barrera and Tim Fontaine
APTN National News
After one of the most fractious election campaigns in recent memory, Shawn Atleo secured a second three-year term at the helm of the Assembly of First Nations Wednesday and used his first post-vote speech to hammer home a message of unity.

Atleo fended off seven challengers to win re-election on the third ballot of voting in Toronto garnering 341 votes of a total of 512 votes cast by chiefs or their representatives.

“Going forward, I reflect back to what the ancestors remind us of, we are stronger together,” said Atleo.

Atleo’s opponents could not gather enough support to knock him off despite firing off heated criticism that he was too close to the Conservative government and not listening enough to chiefs.

Mi’kmaq lawyer and Ryerson Professor Pam Palmater emerged as his main challengers, but despite her second place showing on all three of the ballots, her support was miles away from Atleo’s. She ended with 141 on the third ballot, 107 on the second ballot and 95 on the first.

Dene National National Chief Bill Erasmus was the only other candidate to stay on all three ballots and he finished with 30 votes.

It was the unity of British Columbia chiefs backing Atleo that secured his victory. With about 200 British Columbia votes in hand, Atleo entered the race with a numerical advantage in an election where only chiefs are eligible to vote.

Ontario, with potentially 133 votes, could not come together to form a bloc, despite a large number who were upset with the way Atleo handled the Attawapiskat housing crisis late last year and his endorsement of a joint AFN-Aboriginal Affairs education panel to study on-reserve education.

Manitoba chiefs also found themselves divided among several candidates, including two who came from the province, former Ojibway chief Terry Nelson and Ojibway lawyer Joan Jack.

Nelson dropped out on the second ballot and Jack on the first.

Mohawk activist Ellen Gabriel, who rose to prominence as a calming voice during the Oka crisis, dropped out after the second ballot and supported Palmater.

Former Treaty 3 grand chief Diane Kelly also bowed out after the second ballot.

Atleo praised all the candidates and returned to the theme of unity throughout his victory speech.

“Who would think that with over 50 language groups covering every inch of the territories we share that we could find a way to come together?,” said Atleo. “We will work together, recognizing we share inherent rights and titles…we will reject government’s attempt to deny or extinguish our rights.”

Atleo also addressed the perceived view that he’s detached from the grassroots population, which, based on social media activity, had primarily gravitated to the female candidates Palmater, Gabriel, Jack and Kelly.

“I was asked here…by one of the chiefs to speak directly to the people and so I do want to do that,” he said. “To all of our people we refer to as the grassroots, the grassroots people, all voices must be heard and included.”

Atleo’s electoral victory, however, left behind some poisoned feelings.

Nelson said up to 10 First Nations would leave the AFN as a result of Atleo’s victory.

Palmater also left with parting shot at Atleo.

“There is a joint plan between Alteo and Harper and this vote shows that a majority of chiefs are okay with that plan, but there is a good 40 per cent that are not,” said Palmater. “Somehow there is going to have to be a bridging.”

Erasmus struck a more conciliatory tone.

“Let’s give a strong mandate to the national chief so when he leaves here he knows that the people are with him,” said Erasmus.

Much of the early part of this election focused on speculation over where votes would originate. With British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario holding the most First Nation communities, many wondered which candidate they would support – and if they would do so


Even before voting began, there was word that Atleo had garnered the support of British Columbia’s over 200 First Nation chiefs, a powerful voting bloc. But none of this was announced and few chiefs

would admit who they – or others in their region were supporting.

And while Atleo clearly dominated the first round of voting, it became difficult to pinpoint who among his opponents could challenge him. Palmater, Nelson and Erasmus refused to concede or confirm whether they would strike deals among themselves or with the incumbent.

As the candidates would go from caucus room to caucus room, often with supporters in tow, there was speculation over whether they had garnered more votes. Caucus rooms are traditionally off-limits for journalists and this election was no different.

When candidates would emerge, often they would refuse to speak directly with reporters, leaving many to wonder about their next move.

Missing from this election were the often very deliberate actions by candidates seen in previous races. In 2009, when a candidate was ready to strike a deal or concede defeat, they would walk toward the other

candidate with supporters following behind – often to applause. Far different than this year where these sorts of announcements were announced quietly or not at all.

Even the candidate entries to the main hall were subdued and without much of the fanfare seen in previous elections. Only incumbent Shawn Atleo entered the hall accompanied by drums and singing – but even those entrances were toned down by the last ballot.

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5 thoughts on “Atleo aims for unity following fractious AFN election campaign

  1. Canada is a corporation listed on the NYSE

    On The Art of Stealing Human Rights. Gerry Gamble -1958

    The AFN is nothing but an insidious extension of the ill-legal government control over the Indigenous. The canadians (sic) are in the same faux government trap.

    I commend ANY Chief who decides to exit from the AFN. The crown’s minions are worried that with each Nation that asserts their jurisdiction by removing themselves from the colonial controlled AFN is a blow to their control.

  2. We are the Borg, resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.  I hope these people know that’s what they voted for.  Another disgusting event.  Another 3 years when the Prime Minister says the Indian Act will not be changed and Atleo stands there obedient.  The Corporate Chiefs win again.

    1. I concur with your comment. t_kennedy.

      I rarely come to APTN. I may flip to it on TV once in awhile. It seems that they only allow 5 comments and then they close it. What’s up with that?


    Shawn Atleo says: “I was asked here…by one of the chiefs to
    speak directly to the people and so I do want to do that. To all of our people
    we refer to as the grassroots, the grassroots people, all voices must be heard
    and included.”


    Comments: (1) The AFN is an organization that is composed
    only of Chiefs too many of whom sadly are really only interested in maintaining
    their “status quo” grip on our communities and constituents.  (2) There is no “grassroots” representation to
    really voice the concerns of “on reserve” and even less for so called “off-reserve”
    and “urban” FN people. (3)  So called “Non-status”
    FN peoples living on and off reserve are not even represented at all  (4) Worse, the AFN gets its financing almost
    exclusively from the Governments and, as long as it does, it is in a constant
    “conflict of interest” situation…. and can never represent us fully without
    being “herded” in the “right direction” by the Government and big business……


    Respectfully, if the AFN was a labour union, its membership would
    be composed exclusively of a minority of mostly well paid “supervisors” and not the grassroots, the workers. Getting its financing almost
    exclusively from the employer, how much bargaining power and credibility would
    such a union of “supervisors” have when supposedly representing minimum wage workers
    at the bargaining table and facing a strong well financed employer?  If it wanted to submit a grievance or go on
    strike to fight for its workers rights, this union would be forced to “beg” the
    employer to finance it and, adding insult to injury, made to report on the
    result as a deliverable !     Maintain
    the AFN current “status quo” and it doesn’t really matter who becomes “National
    Chief”  as long as they “appear” to look good
    and “say” the right things in public  for
    the next three (3) years….. Shawn seems to have done this job well for the last


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