Shawn Atleo – I have said it is OUR TIME as Indigenous peoples

AFN National Chief addressing press conference in Ottawa
AFN National Chief addressing press conference in Ottawa
AFN National Chief addressing press conference in Ottawa
AFN National Chief addressing press conference in Ottawa

OTTAWA – LEADERS LEDGER –  I have stated clear priority on the recognition of Treaty, of Indigenous rights and title, on the safety and security of our most vulnerable, and I have also made my priority on education for our kids plainly clear.

I have said it is OUR TIME as Indigenous peoples, that we must smash the status quo and that my job is as an advocate to open doors for First Nations to drive change.

It is on this basis that we have worked very hard to achieve a new conversation between Canada and First Nations – a conversation grounded in recognition, respect and ultimately reconciliation, and to reach a realization that stronger First Nations are vital for a stronger Canada.

I have had the great honour and privilege to visit over one hundred First Nation schools in every region. It is the time spent with kids, their dedicated teachers – the parents and the grandparents that has both inspired me and created a steely resolve and determination. I think of the late Shannen Koostachin, young boys and girls in remote northern communities like young Jayden – you’ve heard me reference so many times before.

It is the spark in their eyes and the knowledge that as leaders – as the adults – we must get this right – right now.

The work before us is absolutely challenging – if it were easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Today’s conversation began over 40 years ago with the remarkable leadership of the late George Manuel and many others. Indian control of Indian education in 1972 – a policy statement crafted by our own educators including Verna Kirkness remains a powerful affirmation of our resilience and our determination to achieve change and justice for our children through education.

Smashing the status quo means ending the glacial pace of change for our people and providing full support for growth and success. Smashing the status quo means new approaches grounded in recognition and in reconciliation.

The current discussion and diverse views remind us within the Assembly of First Nations that we too have much work ahead. The inspiration behind the creation of the Assembly of First Nations was to serve as an advocacy body – bringing together the Nations and supporting one another. I have encouraged reflection on our processes and approach within the Assembly to reflect a sense of re-building our Nations.

Smashing the status quo means that everyone has a role to play. The status quo should NOT be acceptable to any political party – the NDP, the Liberals or the Conservatives. This status quo should also never be acceptable to our Chiefs and leaders.

This work is a challenge for all Parliamentarians and it is a challenge for our Nations. Everyone knows the recent history here – of an open letter and of a clear resolution and five conditions.
Throughout and, with that mandate of Chiefs, I and many others with me have done everything possible to achieve this change.

I am very proud of the work accomplished – very proud of our collective efforts to overcome the status quo on this issue and others.

We’ve been through important and sincere efforts before – in constitutional negotiation, a Royal Commission, and other more recent important efforts such as Kelowna taken forward by former Prime Minister Paul Martin. The current proposal on education is the latest attempt and a sincere, constructive effort on the part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take a step forward.

This work must be understood in that context – as a challenge, not for me, or any one individual – but a challenge and a call to action for the entire country.

I have fought for this work and to achieve this mandate. This work is too important and I am not prepared to be an obstacle to it or a lightening rod distracting from the kids and their potential. I am therefore, today resigning as National Chief.

I have carried out my actions based on principle and integrity. Personally, I believe this work must happen. It can and should happen in parallel to other efforts addressing fundamental questions of ‘how’ we do this work. Now the work started so many years ago must continue. It must continue in every community and it must continue within Parliament. I challenge every party and every First Nation to carry forward this work. Failure is simply not an option. Fighting for the status quo is simply not acceptable.

Today I express my deepest gratitude for the support, the generosity and the respect afforded to me by First Nations and increasing multitudes of Canadians across this country. I have been deeply honoured to serve.

I will, as I have all of my life, continue this struggle in other ways. I want to thank all of those who have quietly worked for education and for our kids. While people do not hear or see them today – YOU will emerge as the heroes of this work in the future.Shawn A-in-Chut Atleo
National Chief AFN

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