APTN National News
MONCTON, NB.-The push by Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn Atleo to radically alter Canada’s relationship with First Nations has left some chiefs wondering whether the national organization is overreaching on its mandate.
Some chiefs in Saskatchewan and Quebec crafted a resolution aimed at curtailing the national organization a day after the AFN unveiled plans to not only get rid of the Indian Act, but also the Aboriginal Affairs department.
“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,” reads the resolution, which failed to make debate Wednesday despite efforts by some chiefs to have it reach the floor of the assembly. “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.”
The resolution was backed by Thunderchild First Nation Chief Delbert Wapass from Saskatchewan and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation Chief Gilbert Whiteduck from Quebec.
The resolution is expected to reach the floor for the debate Thursday, but many of the Saskatchewan chiefs who wanted to speak to it will already be on their way home, said Chief Raphael Paul, from English River First Nation in Saskatchewan.
Policy analyst Russ Diabo, a Mohawk from Kahnawake, said the resolution was a bit of an “overreaction.”
Diabo said Atleo has made it clear it is up to the chiefs to drive the process to change a system that is irreparably broken.
Paul, however, said Saskatchewan chiefs feel that the focus of the AFN seems to be dominated by the interests of British Columbia chiefs, who form Atleo’s power base.
“We are from Saskatchewan (and) B.C. has a different perspective on the treaties and they have to respect our perspective,”said Paul. “We have to protect our perspective on how we interpret our treaties.”
No treaties were signed in B.C. and First Nations there have embarked on crafting modern day agreements.
Paul said there needed to be more consultation before major initiatives get announced.
“There was a lack of consultation, we need to be consulted before we make any move on our inherent and treaty rights,” said Paul. “I want this group to listen to us too. I was in Calgary when the all night session took place and we voted (Atleo) in and he said ‘we are going to respect your treaties’ and that is why we voted (for) him when he said that.”
Atleo, in his opening speech, attempted to preempt these concerns by highlighting the uniqueness of the numbered treaties which cover Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, parts of Ontario and the Northwest Territories.
“Regardless of your specific First Nation-Crown relationship, (whether it is) pre-Confederation, numbered Treaty, modern Treaty or other agreements, we are all pursuing our own way forward based on rights and responsibilities,” Atleo said in his speech. “It is so clear to me that we all must work together and support one another.”
Atleo appears to have caught the attention of Prime Minister Stephen Harper who remains open to a historic meeting with First Nations leaders which could happen as early as this fall.
In a letter from Harper to Atleo, released by the AFN, the prime minister said he was also willing to hear more about Atleo’s proposals to get rid of the Indian Act and reform the treaty implementation process and the settling of comprehensive claims.
“A number of factors need to be examined when considering broad-based reform proposals, such as your recommendations to eliminate the Indian Act and reform the federal approach to treaty implementation and comprehensive claims,” wrote Harper, in the June 21 letter. “I am interested in learning more about your proposals.”
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue, a former Innu leader, said Wednesday Ottawa would be willing to explore removing the Indian Act and replacing the department of Aboriginal Affairs if that was the will of Atleo and chiefs.