Our peoples, the indigenous of this land bear witness and live these challenges right now

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AFN National Chief Shawn AtleoTORONTO – Leaders Ledger – Greetings – as is our way, I give thanks to the Mississaugas on whose lands we gather and I extend greetings on behalf of First Nations from coast to coast to coast.

This evening, I am so pleased to be here. The energy and optimism of this night demonstrate so clearly that beyond leaving a legacy – Jack’s indomitable spirit has been magnified and multiplied!!

I am honoured to gather with you all. This is an exciting time for your party and an important time for all of Canada. We collectively face conditions that will challenge every one of us right across this country.

Global economic uncertainty and climate change frame some of the most complex challenges our planet has ever known. Our peoples, the indigenous of this land bear witness and live these challenges right now.

A failure to act and recognize these problems will further harm, displace and erode not only our peoples but communities across the north and in remote areas. We can not and must not allow our peoples to be relegated as refugees in our own homelands.

No – as Jack so eloquently told the world – Canada is a great country – one of the hopes for the World. He reminded us all that Canada can and must do better.

First Nations face deep challenges on many fronts. In my language we experience socially, economically and environmentally -Wik eesh cha miih ta – or disharmony with other governments, with our environment and within our own communities.

I re-call vividly a time when my own village was reeling from a rash of youth suicides. We, not unlike First Nations across this land dealing with suicide and violence, were devastated. As in our teachings, we reached out and we put out a call for help. Thankfully many answered this call – two of the first were Olivia and Jack.

They arrived quietly on our humble res ferry to the shores of my village. Importantly – they came to help -yes- but, they came to listen and they came to connect with our people, to understand and to stand with us – first and foremost.

Throughout that day at my village, Jack soaked up the voices of our people, the very young and the very old. With deep respect and humility- he listened and then when departing he turned to me and said – “Shawn, let’s build on this day – I’ll do whatever I can”.

And true to his word, Jack was always there. Whether through hand written notes or regular calls – Jack honoured that relationship and he, along with so many of you, supported the efforts of First Nations through building this understanding with an abiding respect.

You see, through the ancient wisdom of our peoples and through Jack’s abilities and values – we find convergence and — we find a path forward.

All indigenous peoples share traditions of Himwits a – or story telling – and value the importance of acquiring knowledge through listening and through connecting. In our teachings we are instructed that the first principle of interaction with all things – be they part of the natural world or with others – is Yaw-uk miss – to be open and friendly and to show love.

These sacred principles show us that relationships are the core to addressing the challenges before us. Just as our ancestors insisted on Treaty as the way forward in dealing with newcomers – this is the way forward now.

Implementing Treaty and realizing the relationship that we all share will unleash and will enable the greatness of this land.

First Nations stand at the forefront of both the greatest social justice issues of this country as well as the greatest potential in building sustainable, effective economies for the future, through recognition, through implementation of our rights and responsibilities and through investing in our peoples – we can re-build and re-capture this relationship.

And Jack knew that understanding and connection was the foundation but as he demonstrated time and time again – this work requires dedication, focus and it requires the energy of all of us – together!

I look forward to working with you – we are all connected – Hishuk-nish-Tsawalk – we are all one – and together, through love and with hope and optimism – we can drive Canada to achieve greatness for all.

I congratulate you all and all of the leadership candidates for marching forward on the path set by Jack. These lessons are embedded in the progress you have made – in achieving milestone’s like the all party motion requiring fairness and action for all First Nation students.

Shannen’s dream lives thanks to your efforts … Shannen got Attawapiskat a school and now Shannen continues to push us all to achieve justice for every First Nation child.

Right across this country we have inspiring young leaders following in Shannen’s footsteps. They are driving change for themselves and for their communities through an abiding sense of their own identity, with a resurgent confidence and belief in what can be achieved. Their energy is critical right now and … together – we must not let them down. Guided by the wisdom of our elders and inspired by our young people – we can continue the drive for social justice and achieve a stronger, better Canada for all.

Kleco, Kleco

Shawn Atleo
National Chief

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