Today, there are a lot of people who are pleased with the resignation of Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. Those same people are taking to social media this morning justifying this was the right thing to do, gloating over their perceived victory over the unrighteous. According to their viewpoint, the outster of Atleo will rid the political landscape of a sell-out who conspired to negotiate away their treaty and aboriginal rights and sold the future of the children down a polluted river of government-controlled education, a minimal cash-infusion and a really bad deal.
Conversely, there are others this morning who are in shock over Atleo’s resignation. Those who know him, and his vision for First Nations future, know him to be a progressive, thoughtful and deeply spiritual leader who would do nothing to compromise First Nations values and rights. They feel the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act is a necessary step to move away from the dismal status quo, improve educational outcomes and bring the on-reserve education system closer to parity with the rest of the country.
Myself, I have not necessarily been a supporter of Mr. Atleo. But he had integrity and is an incredible role model for our people. But the whole debacle of moving this bill forward with such fervent opposition across the country certainly required action, sober second-thought and a vastly improved means of achieving consensus.
This dichotomy of view points are indicative of the diverse viewpoints held by First Nations across Canada. My perspective is that the heightened frustration and anger arising from the treatment of First Nations by the Harper Conservative government has fueled an unprecedented grass-roots movement in First Nations communities. The cuts to First Nations budgets have led the Chiefs to vilify the Harper fiscal agenda as punitive and regressive. This has led to backlash against the government, their legislative agenda and any semblance of negotiations with them.
Despite this political reality, First Nations need to find a way to turn the corner.
The reality is there needs to be fundamental change. A fundamental change in the relationship between the Crown and First Peoples in Canada. Constitutional change that recognizes the Treaties and entrenches our rights and rightful place in Canada. A meaningful inclusion of our people in the body-politic of Canada, that ensures the survival of our people, the elimination of poverty, the proliferation of our values, language and culture. We need to eliminate the Indian Act and its’ control over our people, including it’s control over our education system. We have to develop our own economies in order to generate wealth, provide for our families and eliminate our dependence on government funding.
We get it! We all agree on this including Mr. Atleo.
In my opinion, there are four ways to enable this kind of change: Creating alliances, awareness and a call for change from broader Canadian society; negotiation with the Crown; the education of our people; and real economic development.
But there are as many perspectives as there are solutions. No matter who is selected by the Chiefs to replace Mr. Atleo, they will face the same challenges in obtaining consensus and moving the First Nations agenda.
But instead of empowering our leadership, we find ways to criticize and take our anger and frustration out on our brothers and sisters rather than our true rivals. It seems that many people seem to get off on bringing our own people down, which is really not healthy. It’s mean-spirited and not kindly. It’s certainly not consistent with our teachings and traditional values.
Sure, let’s elect one of the “one-percenters”, those of the ultra-outspoken or those who take to social media daily (sometimes hundreds of times a day). What would they do if given the chance to lead the Assembly of First Nations?
The big question is what will their negotiated agreement look like or be perceived by their fellow one-percenters in this same political environment? When they make their first million dollar deal with a natural resources company, how will that be perceived by their peers and environmental activists?
Protest and demonstration alone won’t get us to any of our goals, no matter how fun it is to disrupt non-native shoppers during shopping mall round dances during the holidays. It will take negotiation, some give and take, and yes, some compromise.
The next person who is selected as National Chief will face all the same challenges. There will be those who support and oppose this individual. Are we going to cannibalize our own in spite of our own anger and frustration? We have to keep in mind that we are all brothers and sisters facing the same challenges and realities.