Atleo opens AFN special assembly with unity call
Assembly of First Nations national chief kicks off three-day gathering and strategy session
National Chief Shawn Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations opened a three-day strategy session for First Nations leaders from across Canada with a call for unity in a "shared struggle" for change.
Atleo told the gathering that a transformation was needed, from "what others may view as scattered protests" to a "movement."
"Not rallies of a few but a movement. A movement of peoples. A moment of nations coming together," Atleo said in part of his address.
"Standing together as we do, whether in opposition to what is unacceptable or in support of implementation agreements and treaties that were arrived at in sacred ceremony and in good faith. We must support and engage all of our people."
Atleo said that includes all Canadians. "Citizens of Canada, both your average citizen as well as influential Canadians, are beginning to recognize that they are also treaty people. They share an obligation," he said.
(Atleo began his address more than a half-hour earlier than its scheduled time. These comments are drawn from the latter half of his speech.)
Atleo referred to recent friction with Ottawa, saying "we've seen promises broken and others act in bad faith."
"We are under seige," Atleo said, referring to recent actions by the federal government. "We need to remember our victories and celebrate them," Atleo said.
"We are the people of this land ... and we will not beg," Atleo said matter-of-factly, echoing an earlier speech by another chief. "We have not been conquered. We have never been conquered."
He ended by calling for unity among the chiefs in shaping the First Nations movement going forward.
"It's a movement that must recognize and harness the real anger and the real frustration. Transform it into real hope and real change for every single one of our peoples. A movement that becomes a solid and continuous change."
Later Tuesday, some of the chiefs went to Parliament Hill, where MPs were to begin voting on the government's second omnibus budget implementation bill. With the help of NDP MP Charlie Angus, the group spoke with Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver outside the Commons about their concerns over the bill.
A brief scuffle ensued after security guards stepped in to prevent some of the chiefs and First Nations members from trying to enter the House of Commons.
Thirty-four draft resolutions are on the agenda for the Special Chiefs Assembly. Among those are several that call for a rejection of the Harper government's plans to work with First Nations on improving education, and one supporting a human rights tribunal complaint over First Nations education funding.
Other resolutions include calls for:
- the federal government to respect a "duty to consult" on international trade agreements.
- the creation of a First Nations water strategy.
- action on recent Supreme Court decisions concerning aboriginal fisheries.
- the rejection of recent federal government changes to fisheries management, research and habitat protection.
- a definition of the term "aboriginal fisheries" in light of an interpretation contained in the government's second omnibus budget implementation bill, C-45, which is set for its final votes in the Commons this week.
- a "Missing Children's Project" to record the legacy of Indian Residential Schools.
- a public inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women.
Government policy concerning First Nations health benefits, tobacco control, substance abuse and mental health strategies are also on the agenda. Chiefs are also calling for subsidies for nutrition in northern communities to be reinstated after the cancellation of the federal government's food mail program.
Resolutions dealing with ongoing land claims negotiations, ending discrimination against indigenous people with disabilities in the criminal justice system and sustainable funding for on-reserve police services round out the list, as well as expressions of support for several local and cultural initiatives.
Between now and Thursday evening, chiefs will engage in a mix of policy discussions, political lobbying and social events.