Tone down "wrecking ball" rhetoric, says chief backing Atleo

A Vancouver Island chief backing Shawn Atleo in the current race for national chief of the Assembly of First Nations is calling on opponents to refrain from “wrecking ball” rhetoric in the campaign.

By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
A Vancouver Island chief backing Shawn Atleo in the current race for national chief of the Assembly of First Nations is calling on opponents to refrain from “wrecking ball” rhetoric in the campaign.

Atleo is facing seven opponents in this year’s election, including four women.

“We have to tone down the rhetoric,” said Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief Doug White. “We don’t want rhetoric swinging through like a wrecking ball.”

White said the attacks against Atleo over his perceived too-close relationship with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government follow a pattern in AFN elections where the incumbent is often faces criticism over their relationship to the sitting government.

“Look at the history of all the rhetoric around national chief elections for the last 20 years and you will see the ebb and flow of discussions when we have a national chief who is engaging and working with rather than fighting,” said White. “Candidates line up and say false accusations or overstate that someone is on the path of assimilation or too cozy with the feds. This has happened with previous national chiefs.”

White was responding to comments made by Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Wallace Fox who said Atleo was enabling the Conservative government in pushing First Nations toward assimilation. Fox, who is backing former Roseau River chief Terry Nelson in the race, formally nominated Atleo as a candidate in 2009.

Fox, whose community is in Saskatchewan and covered by Treaty 6, said Atleo ignored the desire of prairie chiefs to have the AFN focus on pressuring the government to recognize treaty rights. Fox said Atleo’s decision to push ahead with a national panel to study on-reserve education despite the objection of Saskatchewan showed he wasn’t listening. He said Ottawa’s plans to streamline First Nation education with the provinces ignored the treaties, which Fox said guaranteed First Nation control over education.

White, whose community is signatory to the Douglas Treaties of the 1850s, said Atleo is a strong advocate of treaty rights .

“There has not been a national chief that has taking such a strong focus on treaty,” said White. “Quite the opposite from what Chief Fox is saying, there is nothing going on some path of assimilation.”

White said Atleo has been pushing a treaty implementation strategy, birthed from a 2010 resolution from chiefs, that chiefs have been meeting on figuring out the best ways to have treaty rights respected and realized.

It’s not Atleo’s job, however, to define how those rights get implemented, said White.

“The work of treaty implementation belongs to me as chief of the Snuneymuxw, or to Chief Fox as the chief of his people. It doesn’t belong to the national chief’s role as an advocate. The AFN is not a treaty holder,” said White. “I don’t think any chief should be waiting for the national chief to do their work for them. I think (Atleo) is creating real opportunity and space for local treaty chiefs to do their work more effectively. He is raising the issue in a way that it has never been raised before.”

Aside from Nelson, Atleo is also facing challenges from two AFN vice-chiefs including George Stanley, from Frog Lake First Nation, and Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus, from the Northwest Territories.

Four women are also vying for the job of national chief and they include: Ellen Gabriel, a Mohawk from Kanesatake who rose to prominence as a spokesperson during the Oka crisis, Joan Jack, an Ojibway lawyer from the Berens River First Nation, former Treaty 3 grand chief Diane Kelly, a lawyer from Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation, and Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer and professor at Ryerson university.

The vote is scheduled for July 18 in Toronto. Only chiefs can vote in the election.

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Online Producer / Ottawa

Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.

1 thought on “Tone down "wrecking ball" rhetoric, says chief backing Atleo

  1. We must change the system of only Chiefs voting for National Chief. All grassroot should also vote on who should represent them otherwise the National Chief is only the spokesperson for the Chiefs not the prople!

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