Yesterday the Assembly of First Nations re-elected Shawn Atleo as it chief. Atleo had nearly secured his position on the first ballot of the evening, demonstrating his wide appeal amongst the numerous chiefs of the First Nations across the country. His nearest and most vocal opposition, Pam Palmater, finished with less than half the number Atleo was able to receive on the third, and final, round of run-off voting. For those opposed to Atleo, his “close” ties and willingness to compromise with Stephen Harper drove their support toward Palmater, a New Brunswick Mi’kmaq lawyer and Ryerson University professor(1).
Atleo has previously been credited with some substantial outcomes during his first tenure: forward movement in regards to education, getting Stephen Harper to the table to talk about reforming the Indian Act to include land claims, and even getting resouce industries to include First Nations in development talks. These are huge strides that Atleo credits to working with the Government in a non-confrontational manner.
Despite his diplomatic expertise, Atleo is likely to become more confrontational as Harper pushes forward his natural resource exportation agenda. Many First Nations Chiefs are against the Northern Gateway Pipeline in BC, and there are grave concerns about the Ring of Fire in Ontario, and projects in Northern Quebec. Additionally, as the realities of the conditions of First Nation reserves are slowly coming to light amongst the general public, Atleo will be under pressure to secure additional aid, support, and independence from the Harper government(2).
Palmater is certain that her more vocal and confrontational movement will grow between now and the next AFN Chief election if there aren’t some drastic improvements to conditions. “We’re going to keep going. This is a movement that won’t stop now. Our movement is strong,” Palmater said, addressing the assembled media and First Nations Chiefs(3). Given the hurdles Atleo will be coming up against over his second three-year term, Palmater may provide a sizeable opposition in the next AFN election.
With the AFN Chief election complete, it will be interesting to observe how Atleo and Harper continue to cultivate their relationship despite the growing differences in direction. The First Nations have been sidelined by the federal government for far too long, and it has been refreshing to see mainstream media touch on some aspects of their living conditions. Hopefully this will be a growing trend and the AFN can secure equality in negotiations with the Conservatives. If they don’t, we’ll likely be seeing a whole new side of the First Nations in the next three years.
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