Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus, the Northwest Territories' representative for the Assembly of First Nations, says he was shocked by Shawn Atleo’s decision to resign as chief of the organization.
“We don’t hold it against him,” Erasmus says. “He made a very serious decision and we have to respect that.”
Erasmus says he believes Atleo resigned when he realized the education bill he supported would not satisfy the people he represented.
“I think... he agreed with the Prime Minister that it’s the best thing to do, then realized that our people are not supportive of it,” Erasmus says.
Now the question is what will happen next.
In a statement yesterday, the AFN said chiefs will meet to discuss both issues at the end of this month.
Erasmus says nominations for National chief could open up in July with an election in September.
“I’m very confident that we will get our house in order and have someone there who will work for our people,” Erasmus says.
Among the possible nominees being discussed is journalist and musician Wab Kinew, who rose to a high profile during this year’s Canada Reads competition.
Others include Ryerson associate professor and frequent political commentator Pam Palmeter of New Brunswick and AFN B.C. Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Erasmus, who ran for the position two years ago, says it’s something he won’t revisit.
“I turned a page the day it happened and I haven’t looked back.”
Education bill must reflect northern reality
Erasmus still hopes to have some input into a new and improved education bill.
He’d like to see a section included that acknowledges the reality of education for First Nations people in the Northwest Territories.
There are only two reserves in the N.W.T. That means means Bill C-33, which currently targets on-reserve education, would have limited impact.
But Erasmus says that although the N.W.T. government assumes authority over most First Nations education, there was never a discussion about it.
“The reality is we never sat down and agreed that the territorial government is in charge of education.”
Erasmus says education is an inherent right, based on the treaties, that doesn’t come from Canada. He says the legislation needs to support that.
“There needs to be a section on northern people in there,” he says of the bill, “and the northern government may have a big role to play and that’s okay.”