Report claims Manitoba chiefs to consider leaving Assembly of First Nations

Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak.This post was updated at 2:30am EST on January 23, 2013:

There are conflicting reports out today about the future of the Assembly of First Nations.

According to Global News, the Manitoba chiefs are holding closed-door meetings, Tuesday and Wednesday, in a Winnipeg Hotel, where they are discussing the prospect of opting out of the national organization that represents over 600 elected chiefs.

"Tuesday’s meeting at Winnipeg’s Marlborough Hotel will address whether the Manitoba chiefs want to continue to have the national assembly speak for provincial First Nations on treaty negotiations.

The chiefs are also expected to discuss the grassroots Idle No More movement against the federal government’s budget implementation bill, and the chiefs’ relationship with the movement.

First Nations leaders from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and the Northwest Territories will attend the meeting on Wednesday."

[ Related: Spence still holding out for meeting with both the Harper, GG ]

A spokesperson for the Manitoba Chiefs refused to confirm or deny the report, but an assistant to northern Manitoba Grand Chief David Harper told the National Post that the Global report is "not true at all."

"At this point, we’re defining our unity position in terms of going forward on meeting with the Prime Minister and the Governor General," Brennan Manoakeesick said.

The meeting comes just one day after AFN chief Shawn Atleo issued a statement calling for unity. Atleo has been the subject of scorn — in some First Nations circles — for his decision to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper earlier this month without Governor General David Johnston present.

"Some have been critical of that process, and critical of our decision-making structures. They are not perfect," he wrote in his statement, which also noted he would be back to work later this week after being sidelined with a stomach bug and exhaustion.

"Our priority, our focus must remain seeking the changes we have fought for, for so long, in the lives of our peoples. Every First Nation, and every Treaty area, must make the choices that are best for them. Together we can lead the momentum to create this opportunity for all our peoples."

Ernie Crey, a policy adviser for the Stó:lō Tribal Council in British Columbia, is not sure if the rumour of the Manitoba chiefs leaving the AFN are true, but he does say if they did, it would be a big mistake.

"The founders of the AFN understood that the combined strength of the First Nations under the banner of a national organization would be greater than that of smaller regional groupings of First Nations," he told Yahoo! Canada News.

"If someone wants to run off on their own trying to do their own thing, what are their chances of meeting with the prime minister?

"A few people need to make peace with this reality [that Atleo is the leader of the AFN]."

Crey added that threats of separation or actual separation are not new within the AFN.

"[I] checked around with folks who know AFN well. They say it's nothing new for
some AFN regional groups to threaten to walk out," he said.

"And in some instances some regional groups actually did walk out. But these groups
eventually returned to the AFN fold.

"So,say Manitoba takes a powder [on Wednesday], they have done it before, as did
some other regional groups."

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