On Thursday, the Assembly of First Nations, which purports to be the umbrella organization representing more than 600 First Nations bands across the country, issued a press release announcing that it and its National Chief Shawn Atleo were convening a meeting of First Nations (FN) leaders on Jan. 24 and that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston had been invited.
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, engaged in her own protest for such a meeting, rejected the Jan. 24 date, saying she needed a meeting to happen sooner than that, given that her protest consists of having consumed nothing but fish broth, tea and water since Dec. 11.
Less than 24 hours after the AFN issued their call for a meeting on Jan. 24, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced he would be prepared to meet with a delegation chosen by the AFN next week, on Friday, Jan. 11.
More than four hours after that announcement, the AFN issued a statement “welcoming” this news. But while Chief Spence took questions from reporters through a spokesperson, neither Chief Atleo nor any AFN spokesperson was made available to answer questions. There was no mention in the release which FN leaders would attend the meeting. Nor was there any mention of that status of the Jan. 24 meeting.
Chief Spence, though, told reporters the AFN would, in fact, include her in that delegation that is to meet Harper next week. (Harper told reporters in Oakville, Ont. today that the AFN can designate anyone it wants to meet with him and Aborginal Affairs Minister John Duncan) Spence also said she’ll continue her protest if next week’s meeting doesn’t produce an outcome she finds satisfactory.
Chief Spence is the elected leader of about 1,500 people from one community.
Chief Atleo was voted in by the 600 or so chiefs who represent not only Attawapiskat but First Nations communities across the country. He just won re-election last summer.
Who should Harper or Canada be negotiating with? Should Spence be calling the shots or Atleo?
Before you answer: Consider the tweets that have been coming forth from the account of Pam Palmater. Palmater tried to unseat Atleo as National Chief last summer with a campaign that put forward the idea that First Nations people needed to be much more militant. And while the Idle No More movement does not take direction from Palmater and other more militant FN leaders, it is clearly inspired by her call to action.
Here’s Palmater last June as she was setting up to try to defeat Atleo and change the AFN’s tone:
“The direction that the AFN is following, they seem to be following the path that the Conservatives have laid out,. To me it’s a very destructive path. And it looks like some people don’t even realize how destructive it is.”
The file, from Canadian Press, went on to say:
Palmater said [Atleo] has co-operated too closely with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and has little to show for it. She argues repeatedly on her blog that his leadership has taken First Nations down the path of assimilation.
“Being extra nice to the Conservatives isn’t actually advancing our interests,” she said in the interview, pointing to funding cuts. “We’re making things worse.”
So, as word of this meeting between Harper and a delegation of leaders picked by the AFN emerged today — and as some Northern Ontario First Nations leaders told reporters in the National Press Theatre that all First Nations people were united at this point, here’s some excerpts from Palmater’s Twitter feed (this was current at 6 pm ET Friday, she had not tweeted or re-tweeted anything in the prior 24 hours that could remotely be described as supportive of National Chief Atleo or the AFN):
— bob muckle (@bobmuckle) January 4, 2013
No mention of Atleo (or Chief Spence, for that matter). Do click through for Twitter bios of this “dream team”. (Should you do so, you will discover that one is a reporter for CBC’s The National and that reporter gave a “+1″ to this post — an indication that he approves of and endorses the suggestion.)
Here’s University of Victoria political science professor Gerald Taiaiake Alfred:
PM Harper’s minions have laid a trails of crumbs from Victoria Island to January 11th, and many chiefs are slavishly following it…
— Taiaiake Alfred (@Taiaiake) January 4, 2013
#IdleNoMore Don’t forget the main job of the “National Chief” of the Assembly of First Nations is to run interference for white governments.
— Taiaiake Alfred (@Taiaiake) January 4, 2013
— Faye Hansen (@Fansen) January 4, 2013
Voices of the people can’t be silenced with a political photo-op. Our movement was never about a meeting – it was protecting FNs & Canadians
— Pam Palmater (@Pam_Palmater) January 4, 2013
Another academic, Niigaanwewidam Sinclair is a professor at the University of Manitoba:
Note how AFN has co opted the dialogue. Angus pronounced that Atleo will speak on behalf of FNs. The same process that led to #IdleNoMore
— Niigaan Sinclair (@Niigaanwewidam) January 4, 2013
Tanya Kappo’s Twitter bio says she is a Treaty 8 Cree woman from Edmonton:
Just to be clear AFN – you do not speak on my behalf, nor do you represent me. #idlenomore
— Tanya Kappo (@Nehiyahskwew) January 3, 2013
I believe the AFN chiefs — not only Atleo but also his executive committee — have their own political problem on their hands. If Canada negotiates with First Nations leaders, which are the First Nations leaders that can claim to be the legitimate leaders of their peoples? Is it a leader who wins a majority of votes from a handful of chiefs? From one chief who wins a majority of votes from one in his or her community? Or from those with more Twitter followers than their opponents?
Harper has his majority government and the full power of the Canadian state on his side at least until 2015.