Guy Lonechild, on the left, and Morley Watson, on the right, shortly after an assembly of chiefs on Thursday during which Lonechild accepted a buy out package to step down as chief of the FSIN. (Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Guy Lonechild is stepping down as chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

The move came early Thursday evening following a day-long, behind-closed-doors assembly of local chiefs.

Lonechild told reporters that he chose to step down, saying he believed it was in the best interests of the organization, himself and his family.

"He said that there was a need for everyone in the FSIN to work on a united front on important issues like Treaty rights," CBC News reporter Kathy Fitzpatrick said. "He felt that if he and the FSIN parted ways mutually, that it would be able to move in a new direction under a new chief."

An FSIN vice-chief, Morley Watson, who had been interim leader of the organization while Lonechild was under suspension for part of August, will continue as interim chief.

Throughout the day, sources said, a settlement package for Lonechild was a key focus of the chief's meeting.

Vote was 47-2 for buyout

One source said 51 chiefs were at the meeting on the Whitecap Dakota First Nation south of Saskatoon and 47 of them approved a resolution that provided a buyout package. There were two votes against and two abstentions. The FSIN is made up of 74 of the 75 First Nations located in Saskatchewan.

CBC News was told that details of the package would not be released. As well, how each chief voted would not be revealed.

The assembly had been convened to conduct a vote on Lonechild's future. Lonechild was suspended as chief in early August when his leadership was formally challenged. However a judge ruled that the impeachment process that was being followed was invalid.

Media were not allowed to observe the proceedings of Thursday's assembly.

Lonechild told reporters that the move to offer him a package to leave was not expected.

"It took him by surprise that there was an offer," Fitzpatrick said. "But after considering the safety and security of himself and his family and his home and the organization's well-being — those were his words — he felt it best to part ways."

Lonechild refused to elaborate on what he meant by safety and security concerns.

Months of turmoil

The FSIN and Lonechild have been in turmoil for several months, after controversy erupted over news that he had been charged with drinking and driving prior to seeking election as chief.

Lonechild was convicted in March of this year of drunk driving. He was charged by Saskatoon police on Sept. 3, 2009, and seven days later, he applied to run for chief of the FSIN.

Lonechild was elected on Oct. 29, 2009, but did not publicly announce his drunk driving charge before the election.

It wasn't until this year, in February, that the media reported that Lonechild was facing the charge.

At the FSIN's winter assembly that same month, several delegates called for his resignation. Lonechild refused.

That led to a special meeting of a committee of the FSIN that led to Lonechild's suspension and began an impeachment process.

Lonechild challenged the process and a judge ruled in his favour. Nevertheless, he took the package to leave.