On July 18, 2012, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) re-elected Shawn Atleo as National Chief to serve a second three-year term. Atleo was elected on the third round of voting, beating remaining candidates Pam Palmater and Bill Erasmus. There were numerous issues raised during the campaign, chief among them the AFN’s relationship with the federal government and the natural resource industry in Canada.
Major campaign issues
Perhaps the biggest issue in the AFN race for National Chief was the past and future relationship between the AFN and the federal Conservative government. Incumbent Atleo received considerable criticism from other candidates and the media on his policy of cooperating with Prime Minister Harper. Opponents accused him of getting too close to the Prime Minister and allegedly participating in efforts to assimilate the First Nations of Canada.
Natural resource development in the traditional territories of First Nations was a major issue during the campaign. Interestingly, AFN campaign issues largely shifted from long-standing problems like health care, education and the legacy of residential schools to the major resource projects proposed or being developed across the country – oil pipelines, mines, potash plants and natural gas exports. On resource development, local bands are eager to see more national engagement on an issue that presents similar concerns from coast to coast, particularly in terms of resource revenue sharing policies. Some see a pressing need for AFN national leadership to play more of a role in advocating on this issue.
On a general level, the election of Atleo suggests that First Nations in the country are looking to cooperate with the federal government instead of create animosity between the two parties. Following the election, Prime Minister Harper stated, “I look forward to continue working with National Chief Atleo to keep building solid partnerships between First Nations people and other Canadians, to the mutual benefit of us all.” Cooperation and relationship-building will continue into the future, although the strong showing of vocal opponents in the election may cause Atleo to be more firm and demanding in his calls to Ottawa.
Atleo will be faced with the challenge of attending to both land and territorial issues as well as the more acute, day-to-day problems facing First Nations in the country. He must balance the AFN’s attention to problems over natural resources and the respect of treaty rights, while also working on the chronic issues facing First Nations including lack of clean water, inadequate housing, and high rates of suicide.
The resource industry can expect a more sustained, organized and supported call to the federal government to institute national policies pertaining to resource revenue sharing and consultation and accommodation of First Nations near major resource projects.
To review a copy of Chief Shawn Atleo’s presentation “The Economics of Reconciliation” please click here.
– Jessica Davies, Advisor, Aboriginal Engagement –