Shawn Atleo to take 'brief' medical leave as AFN chief
Published Monday, January 14, 2013 8:38AM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 14, 2013 7:44PM EST
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo has temporarily stepped down from his position “on doctor’s orders” after a long week of negotiations that culminated in a monumental meeting between a coalition of Canada's First Nations communities and the federal government.
Atleo, who contracted a norovirus over the holidays and has yet to fully recover, is expected to take a 10-day break to "rest and recover" in the wake of last Friday's working session, which was spurred in part by the ongoing Idle No More movement.
“I am proud of the support we received from First Nations citizens and Chiefs across Canada, even during the most difficult days,” Atleo said in a statement Monday. “There were many long conference calls, late night meetings, and frustrations in the past two weeks. I regret to have to tell you that those long days have caught up with me.
"This weekend, my doctor ordered that I take some time now to rest and recover and I have agreed with my family that I do this now.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other federal officials had met with the First Nations leaders on Friday afternoon to address a number of concerns, including the resolution of land claims and giving aboriginal communities a fair share of resource development revenues.
Gov.-Gen. David Johnston also hosted a ceremonial meeting for the aboriginal leaders at Rideau Hall.
But in the days leading up to the working session, a number of First Nations chiefs announced they would boycott the meeting, standing in support of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who demanded a face-to-face meeting with both Harper and Johnston.
As a result, the meeting generated a deep divide among aboriginal leaders, with noisy protests taking place just outside on Ottawa's Parliament Hill.
The Idle No More movement has seen tens of thousands of First Nations peoples and their supporters mobilize throughout Canada to protest the Conservative government’s omnibus budget bill, which they say tramples on First Nations treaty rights.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Idle No More said Monday that last week's highly-publicized meetings did not address the issues which initially sparked the movement.
“We had to deal with immediate threat, which was (Bill) C-38 and C-45 and all the other pieces of legislation that were being imposed on First Nations that would be devastating to our lands and waters,” Pamela Palmater told CTV’s Canada AM on Monday. “Not a word was mentioned in that meeting, except for Harper to say, ‘We’re not going to deal with the legislation.’”
In the days leading up to the Harper-AFN meeting on Friday, a deep division between amongst First Nations leaders became apparent.
Palmater said while the AFN is a political organization with ties to Ottawa, it’s the community chiefs who should represent the peoples’ concerns.
“What the majority of chiefs who were in Ottawa were saying was … for AFN to kick down the doors and open them up for the chiefs, because the chiefs are the decision makers.”
She continued: “There’s a clear division between the people who are the decision makers and the leaders … There wasn’t a promise for anything (during the AFN meeting) other than to have more high-level meetings to talk about a high-level process.”
Atleo said New Brunswick and P.E.I. Regional Chief Roger Augustine will fill the role in his “brief absence.”
“As we did in the meeting on Jan. 11 – we must seize the agenda and drive the next steps on each and every element,” he said. “I encourage everyone to contribute fully to these next steps,” Atleo said.
Augustine told CTV News on Monday that Atleo is “exhausted” and prior to the onset of the Idle No More movement, he had scheduled time off, which he later postponed.
Augustine added Atleo is anxious to get back to work, but needs some time for himself and his family.
Meanwhile, Idle No More protesters are expected to ramp on Wednesday as chiefs and activists call for a day of protest.
Palmater said while Canadians can expect blockades on roads and border crossings, the majority of demonstrations are expected to be peaceful.
“Ninety-five per cent of our activities are all very low-key; marches, rallies, handing out leaflets,” Palmater said.
She said during traffic slowdowns or temporary border slowdowns, demonstrators aim to educate individuals about movement and explain how it affects all Canadians, not just indigenous communities.
Palmater said a number Canadians who have been caught up in a transportation blockade have asked questions about Idle No More, and some have even joined the protesters.
“We’re reaching Canadians, we’re trying to find the best way to do that, but at the same time we have to send a very strong message to Harper,” Palmater said. “Just because he had a meeting with the AFN doesn’t mean he dealt the any of the issues that are impacting First Nations and Canadians with regards to our lands and waters.”
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