Atleo on verge of re-election as Assembly of First Nations chief

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

It looks like it's status-quo at the helm of the Assembly of First Nations.

According to the Globe and Mail, Shawn Atleo is just three votes shy of a re-election coming out of the second ballot Wednesday with a strong lead of 318 votes — a candidate needs 60 per cent of the roughly 630 votes to win.

Mi'kmak lawyer Pam Palmater was the runner-up again in the second ballot, garnering 105 votes.

Atleo's pending victory certainly vindicates his much maligned policy of co-operation with the Harper government.

Throughout the course of the campaign, most of the other leadership candidates strongly rebuked the work of Atleo, accusing him of being too close to the Tories and enabling the assimilation of First Nations people.

At an all-candidates meeting Tuesday night, Palmater argued that the organization needs to take a tougher stance against the Harper government.

"We are in a crisis and we need to call it what it is. We cannot move forward unless we, as the AFN, are the first to stand up front and say we won't take this from this point forward. So what do we do? We know the status quo is killing our people," she said.

"It's no secret Canada has tried to assimilate us and it remains their ultimate objective. But we now have a government that has put that on fast forward, laid down the gauntlet and said, 'I dare you to do something about it.' I'm here today to do something about it."

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Atleo, for his part, has  maintained his critics don't understand the proper role of the national chief.

"I see my role not as a hierarchical leader but as an advocate," he said in a recent interview. His job in Ottawa is "to open doors or kick them down."

It appears the majority of Canada's chiefs agree with Atleo.

Here are some quick facts about the organization which has become, in many cases, the face of First Nations for many Canadians. (Source:

  • BC had the most possible votes, with 198 chiefs. Followed by ON (126), SK (70), MB (63), AB (45), QC (39), YT (16), NWT (26), NB (15), NS (13), NL (4) and PEI (2).
  • There have been ten National Chiefs since the formation of the Assembly of First Nations (then called the National Indian Brotherhood).
  • Saskatchewan has produced the most National Chiefs of any province or territory (3). Followed by Manitoba (2), BC (2), Ontario (1), Quebec (1) and Northwest Territories (1).
  • There has never been a National Chief from Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut or Yukon.
  • The longest serving National Chief was Phil Fontaine, who held the position for 9 years, a record 3 terms.
  • At the 2009 AFN convention in Calgary, voting for National Chief lasted a record 8 ballots, over 23 hours.
  • Since 1982, 8 women have run for the office of National Chief but none have been elected.
  • In this 2012 election, 4 women were running for the office of National Chief — a record.
  • At age 29, Noel Starblanket became the youngest National Chief in 1976.

[ Related: First nations feel cheated by Canada's justice system ]