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Atleo, the AFN and Idle No More

The resignation of National Chief Shawn Atleo was unprecedented. Never before has a leader of the Assembly of First Nations stepped down. Stating that he didn’t want to stand in the way of children affected by the passage of Bill C-33, the newest version of the First Nations Education act that the Harper government is trying to ram through against the will of Onkwehonwe people, Atleo stepped aside.

The resignation of National Chief Shawn Atleo was unprecedented. Never before has a leader of the Assembly of First Nations stepped down. Stating that he didn’t want to stand in the way of children affected by the passage of Bill C-33, the newest version of the First Nations Education act that the Harper government is trying to ram through against the will of Onkwehonwe people, Atleo stepped aside.

Of course it may have been a matter of jumping before he got pushed, as there have been rumours of an impending leadership review, and much criticism of Atleo for his leadership methods and close collaboration with Stephen Harper.

However, the true credit for Atleo’s departure should belong with the Idle No More movement. It was at the height of that movement in January of 2013 that Atleo took a “health leave” when faced with criticism about how he handled Chief Spence’s hunger strike.

We are not suggesting that the Idle No More movement is necessarily a coherent force as it means many different things to many different people, but the fact is that its existence makes for a whole new factor in the world of national Aboriginal politics. In this new post-Atleo moment, the power and presence of INM can’t be discounted, and that’s a fact that makes the Harper government very nervous.

Despite all the problems inherent to the AFN and the band council system, we are now in a new kind of political moment in which Onkwehonweh peoples’ resurgence is changing how native and non-native politics gets done. Grievances keenly felt by Native people for generations were mobilized with the Idle No More, and the power and connectivity of social media and the internet spread and strengthened the movement. It showed what all our struggles have in common, and it created an unprecedented explosion of political activism that touched the lives of millions of peoples.Nor did it leave the AFN untouched.

Even if we accept as correct all the criticisms which have been made of the inadequacies of Idle No More, the fact remains that in the minds of tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of people the movement stands for a resurgence of indigenous identity and political opposition to the Harper government and the protection of mother earth. It also has the use of an enormous and highly sophisticated social media platform to get the word out.

That’s a potent force to have on side if you’re the new AFN leader. It cloaks you in the mantle of the peoples’ interest and it makes it possible to extract significant concessions from the Canadian establishment. How this will actually shake out is unclear as there are factions both for and against the INM “leadership” within the AFN. But the fact remains that we may be about to see a significant realignment of power on the national Aboriginal scene.

Of course it would be nice to see the AFN leadership do more. Imagine if they used their national voice to raise the issue of Bill C-10 (the Criminalization of Native Tobacco Act) and link it to the  new First Nations Education Act and the government’s refusal to call an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. That might be a nightmare situation for the Harper government.

In the wake of all of Harper’s omnibus bills that have run roughshod over the rights of both the people of the ship and of the canoe, maybe the time has come for an omnibus moment of our own. What if we created an “omnibus movement” that unites the peoples of all nations to insist that our ways of living be remade, so that we can all live in harmony with our mother the earth and in societies in which all are treated with the peace, justice and respect they deserve.

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  • mikegklein
    May 13, 2014, 3:56 pm

    Clear description of situation, analysis of processes, and suggestion for action. Good stuff here.

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