First Nations leader Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, running for national chief, sees education as key

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Aboriginal leader Shawn A-in-chut Atleo takes education seriously. The B.C. regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations says it’s unacceptable that people are graduating with master’s degrees and PhDs in Canada without any knowledge of the top social-justice issue in the country.

      Atleo said he will place a major emphasis on education during his campaign. And it will remain a top priority if he’s elected national chief on July 22. Regardless of the outcome of the campaign, he said, he wants to gather top academic thinkers to discuss how they can increase students’ understanding of Native issues and the aboriginal experience.

      “I still feel there is lots of work to do [in] the area of education through the entire system, from the funding supports to curriculum development to leaders in the education system accepting responsibility,” Atleo said. “While they didn’t create the Indian Act or the residential-school legacy, I suggest that all of us share responsibility for doing something about it. I would ask the leaders in the field of education to really step up.”

      Atleo, a hereditary chief of the Ahousaht First Nation on western Vancouver Island, pointed out that more than half of all Native people in Canada are under the age of 25, which is one reason why he’s keen to discuss this subject. He has a master’s degree in education, and his father, E. Richard Atleo—whose Nuu’chah’nulth name is Umeek—was the first aboriginal person to graduate from UBC with a PhD.

      “What I’ve seen in my father and the rest of his generation is incredible resilience to bear the burden of going through the”¦most difficult, dark chapter in our history—where he couldn’t go to a hotel room or get a seat in a restaurant,” Atleo said.

      He noted that members of his father’s generation were removed from their families and put in schools where they were told their culture was wrong. Many were beaten, and some who tried to speak their language had their tongues pricked. “Then shouldn’t education now be a tool of emancipation and support for the rebuilding of communities, families, culture, and language?” Atleo asked.

      He said his father taught him that there is no easy path through life. “There’s either the hard way or the harder way,” Atleo quipped.

      Atleo said that this also applies to the process of reconciliation. As the regional AFN chief, Atleo worked with two important Native groups—the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the First Nations Summit—that had long-standing differences over the treaty process and resource issues. “We now have a chiefs’ council and a provincial action plan,” he said. “And we’re having discussions”¦not only with one another over the sharing of resources but with other user groups like commercial fishers, trollers, sports fishers.”

      Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the UBCIC and Grand Chief Doug Kelly of the FNS are cochairing Atleo’s campaign to become national chief. As the Straight went to press, AFN national chief Phil Fontaine hadn’t revealed whether he will seek reelection. Anishinabek Nation grand council chief John Beaucage and former Saskatchewan AFN regional vice chief Perry Bellegarde have said they’ll run.

      Atleo noted that it will be more challenging to achieve reconciliation without addressing education—on both sides of the border. “It wasn’t that long ago I was at Stanford [University] having a professor wagging his finger at me saying issues of social and environmental justice do not belong in a market economy,” Atleo said. “Well, the graduates of those programs are now running the very corporations that we’re having conflicts [with] in northern British Columbia. They’re the ones forming policy in Victoria and Ottawa.”

      How a national chief is elected

      > Each candidate must be endorsed by 15 chiefs representing First Nations that belong to the Assembly of First Nations.

      > At least eight of the endorsers must be from outside the candidate’s province or territory.

      > Candidates are allowed to spend up to $35,000 on their campaigns.

      > On the day before the vote, each candidate must submit a certified preliminary statement of campaign expenses to the chief electoral officer that identifies the names of contributors.

      > Each member of the Assembly of First Nations has one vote. The AFN represents more than 630 First Nations communities across the country.

      > The national chief will be elected on the second day of the general assembly of the Assembly of First Nations, which will take place between July 21 and 23 in Calgary.

      > A candidate who fails to gain 15 votes will be eliminated.

      > The winner will be the first candidate who gains 60 percent of the votes of members who are registered at the assembly.

      > The only national chief from B.C. was George Manuel, a member of the Neskonlith Indian Band of the Shuswap Nation, who held the position from 1970 to 1976.

      Source: Assembly of First Nations

      Watch Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith and reporter Stephen Hui's May 22, 2009 interview with First Nations leaders Shawn A-in-chut Atleo about his plans to run for national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.



      Kevin abrahams

      May 29, 2009 at 1:09am

      Well no one asked me but I am hoping that whichever person becomes the National Chief concentrates on the water on our land and that we work at stopping the multinationals/corporation fro privatization through P3s and IPPs, beacause nothing else will matter if there is no clean water to drink, or it costs too much


      May 29, 2009 at 11:27am

      Who bankrolls the 35,000 bucks, and who pays for the big convention?

      Dirk Buchholz

      May 30, 2009 at 1:51am

      ..."Regardless of the outcome of the campaign, he said, he wants to gather top academic thinkers to discuss how they can increase students’ understanding of Native issues and the aboriginal experience.

      “I still feel there is lots of work to do [in] the area of education through the entire system, from the funding supports to curriculum development to leaders in the education system accepting responsibility,”...

      So in short nothing much is going to change,AFN will remain a top down orgs.
      Here's a thought,instead of gathering academics together and or holding talk shops. How about addressing the grassroots.i.e building inter-community solidarity and listening to the grassroots band membership etc.
      The answers and solutions are to be found there,enough already with the "experts",lawyers,and consultants...
      Change starts at the community level,one community at a time,for sure this is much more difficult, but it is essential if ever there is to be real & meaningful change in the lives of the common folk.
      Although I am critical of some of Calvin Helin's "solutions"(as outlined in his much touted book',Dancing with Dependency') he does make a very important point(indeed one shared by many many ordinary/grassroots/out-of-the-loop indigenous people) that being about first making AFN accountable to the very people they supposedly speak for....i.e elections and transparency.Until that is done AFN will continue to have little to no relevance in the lives of the very people they claim to represent.

      Sid Freenbean

      May 31, 2009 at 12:39pm

      Atleo has a carefully crafted image. He says the right things, presses the right palms, kisses babies and goes to the right parties. So while he might wear a cute little hat and cape he's nothing more than a politician.
      "It wasn't too long ago that I was at Stanford University" he said. What is he doing there, Indonesia a few years back after the Tsumani or at Obama's inauguration when his own people are neck deep in social hell back here?
      And the other poster was right - who bankrolls the $35,000? Moreover, why doesn't the AFN have to follow the same rules of disclosure that other government bodies do? They call themselves a government after all.
      Do the right thing Charlie. Aboriginal or not, Atleo and his platform should be examined critically the way any other public officials would be.


      Jun 8, 2009 at 1:40pm

      The AFN suffers from a lot of things but most of all it is the misunderstanding of the uninformed that it is something of a government body when that is so far from reality.

      The AFN is a national non-profit advocacy organization that addresses national Indian policy and other issues of that scope and level. And that's all.

      Sometimes it gets a contract here and there from the feds to roll out a national promotional program to first nations reserves or to engage in quasi consultation talks.

      But mainly it is a well-branded organ used to play the songs collectively composed by supposedly wise locally elected chiefs via periodic resolutions, which the national leader is then suppose sing to stakeholders nationally, specifically the federal government.

      And some leaders sing better than others and some topics are held in tune better than others. For instance, the tune Atleo is promising to sing with gusto is education. And given his background he no doubt will.

      But as for actually improving the lot of your average first nation person across this country, whether on or off reserve, nope, that's not the AFN's mandate nor is it anything remotely close to its capacity. That's the role of government or ideally the collective role of all governments.

      And that's why it makes no sense for every first nations person to vote the national chief. Other than personal suasion and an endorsement by majority vote of chiefs to be their spokesperson in Ottawa, his (or her) authority does not have a treasury and a law making house to prop it up, therefore that leaves very little to actually be held accountable for. So why bother?

      Educating the public and even average first nations members about the AFN's limited role and capacity is something Atleo should undertake if he succeeds in acquiring the leadership of this organization in July.
      - Coyote


      Jul 3, 2009 at 9:55am

      I agree with Coyote, and is something that members of the AFN ought to take seriously and really contemplate.

      But I really do like the platform that Mr. Atleo is running on. Education is a critical factor in any development schemes, as is the gathering of knowledge and transfer of skills and action, but so is the federal backing for any such projects and programs. The National Center for First Nations' Governance has already commissioned several research papers which can be found at:

      Perhaps too another a good place to start is the previous Auditor General's Report to the House of Commons and the criticisms & highlights therein.

      Back in 2002~3, the AG criticized how the First Nations had to produce annually, 168-202 reports to the feds, but there was no reciprocal obligation, and where the feds didn't then divulge how they use this info. In other words, where the stats for fiscal spending is not within our FN control, & the AG suggested that a national statistical center ought to be established for it.

      I attended the last National Aboriginal Solidarity day sponsored by the AFN in Ottawa 2 years ago, and the turnout was dismal. It was mostly kids, who walked at a snail's pace for a good distance, and wherein there were a couple of docile, and barely audible speakers. The platform was schools for our ppl in the western provinces, when this event took place out east.

      What the AFN ought to do, is to highlight all the positives that have worked, and are working, and focus on the strengths and opportunities. I believe that grass roots people can be very effective, and are who started our education system back here in the east, believe it or not.

      Also, maybe to look for how or if these are linked to various gov't commissions such as the Hawthorn Report of 1966; Indian Control of Indian Education of 1972; the Penner Report on Self-Gov't of 1983 and maybe compare them to some of the key recommendations of the Royal Commission of 1998. Build upon what is already in place.

      Nia:wen tánon satera'swiióhak! Thank you and good luck, Mr. Atleo!