By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The election for the next national chief of the Assembly of First Nations will likely be held this fall, according to the organization’s executive chiefs committee that has taken over the role in the interim from Shawn Atleo who resigned from the post last Friday.
Quebec and Labrador regional Chief Ghislain Picard said this July’s planned AFN general assembly in Halifax will likely be cancelled and replaced by the election gathering held later in the year. The decision emerged following a two day meeting of the AFN’s executive which is made up of chiefs representing 10 regions in Canada.
“We had a scheduled assembly already in the works in July of this year,” said Picard, who was appointed Tuesday as spokesperson for the AFN executive. “We all agree instead of July we push it back to maybe later in the fall to hold the election. The election is a matter we need to deal with quickly.”
Halifax and Winnipeg are currently the two potential cities that could host the election. Winnipeg was scheduled to host the AFN national chief election in 2015.
The AFN’s executive also decided to hold a chiefs education committee meeting on May 15 and a special chiefs assembly meeting on May 27 and 28 in Ottawa. The May 15 meeting will come with an open invitation and the special assembly will deal with the AFN’s position on the First Nation Control of First Nation Education and the upcoming national chief election.
The Harper government has put the education bill, Bill C-33, on hold until the AFN decides on its position.
Before his resignation, Atleo was viewed as supportive of the bill and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt often used the former national chief’s perceived support as a shield against critics of the proposed legislation.
According to the AFN charter, the AFN’s executive chiefs committee assumes the role of the national chief in the event of a resignation.
The AFN executive, however, did not come to any conclusions on a request from Ontario regional Chief Stan Beardy to hold a Confederacy of Nations meeting. The Confederacy, which is in the AFN’s charter, acts as an oversight body similar to that of the Canadian Senate. It hasn’t met since 2004 and is composed of one delegate from each region plus additional delegates per 10,000 status Indians in each region.
“That is still under discussion. It is still on the table, we have not come to a final decision on that,” said Picard.
Atleo’s resignation took the AFN executive by surprise. They were informed shortly before he announced his decision during a press conference in Ottawa.
Atleo’s cousin Courtney Louise, 26, said she believes the former national chief was brought down by “haters” in the First Nations world.
“There are too many haters out there, people on social media sayings things like, ‘oh Shawn Atleo is a token Indian,’ taking shots at his family,” said Louise, who is a videographer in Atleo’s home community of Ahousaht in British Columbia. “How much would it hurt you if someone said that to you?”
Louise said education was Atleo’s main goal and she believes he accomplished what he set out to do.
“When he was running (for national chief) I remember he wanted to open doors for people,” she said. “He’s just waiting for people to take over for him.”
Louise said Atleo did not enter politics to better himself, but to better his people.
“He never does anything for himself. He does nothing to line his own pockets, it is always for the betterment of his people, his community,” she said. “He is never selfish about things that he does, he is always preparing for the future.”
The departure of Atleo has also created space for the grassroots to seize and influence the agenda again, says one of Idle No More’s founders. Jessica Gordon said grassroots in communities across the country should be organizing on this issue and planning for days of action. She suggested examples like pulling kids from school for a portion of a month calling it “National Cultural Resurgence and Education Month. She also suggested that teachers and administrators in reserve schools launch a one day strike as part of a national day of action.
“The timing is right. Things have lined up perfectly for actions like this. Education for our future generations, no national chief in the AFN, grassroots taking a political stance and huge amounts of knowledge and information sharing has proven that this is what our people believe,” said Gordon. “Yes, (education) is definitely a line in the sand.”