OTTAWA – Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo has issued an open letter to all Chiefs across Canada. Here is the text of the National Chief’s letter:
Open Letter to all Chiefs
Greetings to you all. In addition to the communications and information available at www.afn.ca that relates to all of the work at the national level, I wanted to also take a moment to provide you with direct information.
Our role and mandate at the national level is very clear. As you know, you, the Chiefs, are the Assembly of First Nations and, as we have since the inception of our organization, we work on the basis of building consensus and providing direction to the secretariat to carry out your instructions. We are a national advocacy body and our task is to create the opportunities, the momentum and the urgency for First Nations issues to be addressed. We cannot and will not design or impose any solutions.
Starting in 2009, the National Executive developed a national strategic plan based on decades of resolution and mandate to advance full recognition and implementation of our rights and responsibilities securing our place in Canada and internationally as Indigenous Nations. The work was presented at our Special Chiefs Assembly in December 2009 at which time the Chiefs also stood together making education a top priority. In 2010, First Nations leaders again, at the Annual General Assembly re-iterated our collective plans and confirmed nationally the importance of advancing endorsement of the UN Declaration, advancing clear work on a national Treaties implementation strategy, key policy reforms based on our rights on comprehensive claims and self-government, and advancing our governments and economies. All of this work is backed up by decades of resolution and specific direction for AFN and for me as National Chief.
My role has been, as I said in 2009, to open doors – kick them down as necessary- and then get out of the way for First Nations to drive and design a path forward. Since then, we have engaged at every level of government and with leaders in every sector of the Canadian economy and society to raise the profile and urgency of our issues. At the same time, my priority has been spending time in First Nation communities directly. This has meant that every month, I have spent time within our nations in every region of the country and I have further attended and spoken at Assemblies in every region several times every year supporting those efforts and ensuring coordination.
Last year at our Annual General Assembly in Moncton, we discussed the Canada-First Nations Joint Action Plan. Every year, not unlike every regional organization and tribal council, AFN engages in work with the Department based on the direction we have received. Last year, we insisted on a principled approach based on First Nation rights and including clear commitment on advancing Treaty implementation, comprehensive claims policy reform and advancing First Nation governments as opposed to responding to departmental program priorities. Every element of the plan was discussed and there are specific resolutions relating to each mandating specific regionally representative committees or groups to take the work forward. Nothing is pre-determined and I re-iterate this work is only to create the opportunity for regions, Treaty areas and Nations themselves to drive forward their specific plans. There are no one size fits all approaches.
During the last fiscal year alone, AFN will have hosted nine national forums in addition to Chiefs committees and national working groups on all priority issues. This work has enabled thousands of our people from leaders, youth and our own officials that are driving solutions within their home communities to engage and coordinate efforts. These forums have largely been hosted without or with minimal government funding as we advance new ways to make our organization strong, independent and able to do the work that is demanded of our people. This is the work of coordinating, facilitating and advancing First Nation issues. But again, decisions will and can only be made by First Nations for First Nations.
The profile of our issues has increased as has the urgency of the need for action to drive change. We can do this work by supporting one another.
The Crown-First Nations Gathering was a first step in confirming the prominence of our issues on the national scene. This creates the opportunity and we will continue the press for action. But most importantly, it is the work happening by First Nations, Treaty groups and regions that is central and required to drive the change needed. First Nations have the solutions and we must be dedicated to driving every next step in this work.
I re-iterate my full commitment to standing with every Nation in supporting your efforts for change based on your rights and your responsibilities to your people. We have much potential to achieve change and our people demand and deserve this attention and support.
National Chief Shawn Atleo