Shawn Atleo has announced his resignation as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
Atleo made the announcement at a press conference in Ottawa today (May 2), citing the ongoing debate over proposed reforms to First Nations education.
“This work is too important and I’m not prepared to be an obstacle to it, or a lightning rod distracting from the kids and their potential,” he said.
The leader has faced criticism from some First Nations leaders for his support of the Conservative government’s First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act.
Atleo said he has made aboriginal education a priority during his time as national chief.
“I have had the great honour and privilege to visit over 100 First Nations schools in every region,” he stated.
“It’s the time spent with kids, their dedicated teachers, their parents and their grandparents, that has both inspired me, as well as created a steely resolve and determination.”
According to AFN CEO Peter Dinsdale, the organization’s executive committee will meet to determine the next steps. The committee will likely appoint an interim or acting national chief, he said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement that he was "saddened to hear the unexpected resignation of Shawn A-in-chut Atleo".
“National Chief Atleo was a conciliator and strengthened the relationship between First Nations and the Crown. As the Hereditary Chief from the Ahousaht First Nation, he showed leadership to his nation and all First Nations across Canada," he stated.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark also issued a statement in reaction to the news, thanking Atleo for his "many contributions".
"Chief Atleo has dedicated his life to improving the lives of First Nations people in British Columbia and across the country," she said. "As National Chief, Shawn demonstrated the same passion and tireless work ethic that he showed during his time as Regional Chief of British Columbia."
B.C. AFN regional chief Jody Wilson-Raybould said she learned of Atleo's resignation with "surprise, disappointment and sadness".
"Partnership and cooperation between and among First Nations is essential," she indicated in a statement. "As is cooperation
among Parliament. We need a results driven non-partisan approach to recognition and reconciliation which will ensure, among other things, First Nations control of First Nations education."
Atleo is from Ahousaht, B.C., and has been national chief of the AFN since 2009.
His full statement from today is available on the AFN's website.