Atleo – Bureaucrat Summit: How Bad Does it Have to Get?

There is no question that every government since pre and post-confederation has had a hand in the theft of our Indigenous lands and resources, the control of our citizens and the division of our Nations. Governments now make very public apologies, but still maintain our communities in poverty. There was a small sign of change with the Kelowna Accord, but the Conservatives blew that out of the water once they came to power. There would be no investment in food, water, education or housing for First Nations – not on an assimilationist, radical Conservative watch. However, there is always the pesky media and public to worry about, so after Prime Minister Stephen Harper tore up the Kelowna Accord, he had to save face publicly by making one of his infamous empty promises. Harper promised that instead of $10 billion dollars to address the crisis of poverty in our First Nations, we’d get a First Nation-Crown Summit. I was very skeptical about this “deal” for 2 reasons: (1) it was unilaterally imposed to save face and (2) it didn’t seem like a fair deal to me. This meeting that was promised by Harper and his Conservative government three times, always failed to come to fruition. During this time, and in Harper’s own backyard, we saw the people of Kashechewan First Nation evacuated from their community because they were all sick from the contaminated water due to the chronic underfunding of infrastructure on reserve. We also read the disturbing findings of the Coroner’s Death Report about the epidemic of child suicide at Pikangikum First Nation. If that wasn’t bad enough, Attawapiskat First Nation called a state of emergency for the third time because people had no homes and were living in sheds. Given that the media kept its attention on Attawapiskat for more than 24 hours, Harper was publicly embarrassed. Add to this his ineffective Minister of Indian Affairs, John Duncan who could not help but spew stereotypical and inflammatory remarks about First Nations and Harper was once again forced to do something. This was a very difficult position for him because he has no intention of doing anything for First Nations – so he relied on his post-Kelowna disaster promise: a First Nation-Crown Summit. However, meetings never come together very well when one has no intention of really doing anything at the meeting and you don’t want to meet in the first place. But, it was a meeting none-the-less and it accomplished the task of taking most of the media’s attention away from Attawapiskat and focusing it on the now “historic” meeting between Harper and First Nations. Yet, this historic meeting was not to be as historic as the First Ministers Meetings with First Nations because the provinces would not be in attendance and now, Harper is bailing out as well. The First Nations-Crown Summit agenda that was originally posted on the Assembly of First Nations website showed a day which was mostly taken up with ceremony and political speeches. The minimal time actually dedicated to the meeting with Harper and First Nations was to be top secret and not televised or streamed live on the web for grass roots First Nations or the public to see. There was also to be a complete media black-out as no media were allowed to watch or participate in the meeting. A few strategic locations in Canada were to be set up with cameras so that Chiefs could watch the event, but those locations are also top secret – at least to the media anyway. So, if that were not bad enough, now we have word that Harper won’t even stay long at his own meeting. Harper will not even attend the actual meeting itself – if you can believe that. No, Harper is too busy with his international “jet-setting” to attend a “historic” meeting with First Nations to address issues like Attawapiskat. Instead, National Chief of the AFN Shawn Atleo and 400 Chiefs get to meet with a couple of Cabinet Ministers and a whole lot of federal bureaucrats. So, what will be Atleo’s response? He is after all, the National Chief and the one who must set an example for everyone else. He has not only First Nation Chiefs watching him, but all the grassroots people who live or die by what he does and does not do. We look to our leaders, in all forms, to stand up for us, advocate on our behalf and make sure our voices are heard. Alot is riding on his response to this latest slap in the face by Harper. How will the AFN respond? For those of you concerned about previous comments I have made about Shawn Atleo’s weak leadership, please let me assure you that these comments are not about him as a person. I don’t know him personally. I have met him a few times, and he seems nice enough. My issue is with his job as a leader and as a First Nations person, I am entitled to expect strong leadership from someone who holds such a powerful position. When I critique his politics, it is not lateral violence against him as a person, but instead a call to act responsibly for our people. I always say images shape aspirations. If we see our parents treat us with love and compassion, we are likely to treat others that way. If we see Indigenous professors and University Presidents, then we are more likely to think of those jobs as possible for ourselves. If we see strong Indigenous women leaders, we model the way for our youth to know that they can work for their people regardless of gender. In the same vein, when Atleo acts, he is indirectly telling our First Nation children, youth and young adults what is possible. So, if Atleo sees the Prime Minister: – tear up Kelowna Accord; – watches as Harper refuses to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; – Denies that colonialism ever happened in Canada; – makes amendments to the Indian Act that continue both gender discrimination AND legislative extinction; – blames Attawapiskat for their own suffering and refuses to vist the First Nation; – Does not act when conditions in Pikangikum get so bad that nine year old children commit suicide; – Allows his Minister of Indian Affairs to deny that residential schools were acts of genocide; and – watches Harper duck out of the First Nation-Summit; then does nothing about it – then the message he sends to First Nations children living without water, food or a warm home is that we are not worth standing up for. All the murdered and missing Indigenous women in this country are not worth standing up for. All the Chiefs that have been ignored, insulted, stood up, stone-walled, and belittled are not worth standing up for. After all, if Atleo does not think we are worth standing up for, why would anyone else thing we are worth it? Children will see that their suffering takes a back seat to the risk that by standing up for us like a real leader, Atleo might lose some funding for the AFN. Perhaps the Conservative government might not attend their AGMs for a year or two. Or Harper might even refuse to meet with Atleo for a while. We all know that this is a serious risk. We saw the Native Women’s Association of Canada lose its Sisters in Spirit funding when they brought international attention to Missing and Murdered Indigenous women in Canada. We saw the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society lose their funding when they filed a discrimination complaint against Canada for chronically under-funding child and family services putting our children at risk. But our Indigenous leaders take risks. Our warriors put their lives on the line for our territories and our people. Our ancestors gave up their lives to protect us. We still have our pride, our cultures and our communities because of them. The least Atleo can do is take a risk and finally say enough is enough. – tell Harper that we will not settle for scraps anymore. This First Nation-Crown Summit has now been reduced to an Atleo-Bureaucrat summit where most of the time will be taken in fluffy, empty speeches to make Harper look good, some gift giving and ceremony and then Harper leaves before anyone has a chance to talk about the hard issues. If Atleo would stand for this on behalf of all the Chiefs, this makes me wonder – how bad does it have to get? What would it take for Atleo to say enough? His lack of action and bizarre defense of Harper makes me wonder if Atleo is the new Brazeau? No progress has been made, yet Atleo is always defending the Conservatives. That may have got Brazeau a Senate seat, but it didn’t improve the lives of First Nations people. I guess I’ll get my answer when Atleo responds to this latest development. If he defends Harper’s no-show at the upcoming meeting – I guess there is nothing more I can say about it. We’ll see on the news tonight or tomorrow if he stands up for us or supports Harper. Here’s naively hoping….


  1. I have seen this type of attitude by the Government of Canada all of my life and the rest of the Native community has It not only seems that the Government don't care it should be apparent and they have shown the entire world that they don't care about the native population We can't blame our Native leaders for the way the leaders of the Canadian act, But we should be able to stand up and make our feelings known for Our leaders inactive use of the power we placed in them.

  2. I appreciate your comments and also await responses made to the serious problems facing our communities. I also think that many of our "First Nation" leaders are thinking inside a box that is set up to limit our power and authority. Under-funding keeps the power structure of elitism in our communities where the political structure reinforces the concentration of power and advantage to specific family units. Feds love the structure and the result.

  3. I agree completely. ithink it is always important to show respect for the person but address behaviors. I think in this article you have done that very well. I am hoping that once again our people will see how even the AFN National Chief if he questions Harper and tries to make him and his government accountable will be closed down and ignored or only given lip service, to the point our people start to work to take back our power and to demonstrate to the powers that be that we cannot be ignored any longer. I realize this is risky for many chiefs who totally depend on Indian Affairs funding to help keep their communities at least inches close to the top of the water so they don’t completely drown, but things have to be done to individuals like Harper and Manny Jules who are leading the charge toward devestation of Indian communities and total assimilation.

  4. the conservatives played our chiefs like metis fiddles, beginning with atleo at the, photo-op, vacuum of substance, harper's PR is great, lined up central canada as indication that he's moderate, and left the Provinces a free hand to push extraction full speed ahead as he ties up our chiefs in 'tables' for the next 1-4 years
    except one thing – it's going to be paid by the blood of mother earth, our women, men, children, elders and spiritual ancestors on the land

  5. So get the roadblocks out, I say! Embarass Harper in front of the world. I don't respect Atleo, just like the actions or lack of action by Cooncome and Mercredi – we don't need 'leaders' like this. They get talked out of action by the Feds wallet, one way or the other.

  6. International relations diplomacy aside, being polite (deferential) to the Conservative government from fear of funding cuts does nothing to stop funds from being cut.

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