After a week of infighting, AFN Chief Shawn Atleo wins a reprieve

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Details about the infighting within the Assembly of First Nations over the last week are beginning to emerge.

National Chief Shawn Atleo has been the subject of scorn — in some First Nations circles — for his decision to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper sans Governor General David Johnston.

According to Tim Harper of the Toronto Star, the first 'attack' against Atleo came just as he entered the prime minister's office:

"As he rode to a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper last Friday, Shawn Atleo’s Blackberry buzzed.

“Since you have decided to betray me, all I ask of you now is to help carry my cold dead body off this island,’’ the text message said.

It was sent in the name of Chief Theresa Spence, but those who saw the text believe it came from someone else in her circle on Victoria Island."

On Monday, Atleo issued a surprising statement, saying that he would temporarily be stepping away from his role with the AFN for a doctor-ordered sick leave.

[ Related: National chief's illness will delay, but not derail, talks with Harper ]

That decision, according to APTN News, seemed to create even a deeper divide. The First Nations' news network obtained several emails from within the AFN 'political establishment' chiding Atleo for taking the time off.

“I can’t recall a NC taking medical stress leave before. Shawn is a young man. Health should not be an issue, and if it is, then perhaps he should resign and take a less stressful position in BC,” said one email from a band official in Alberta.

“This has a stench of seeking pity and endearment…If the NC is sick I will be the first to show compassion and reasonable sympathy, but let’s separate the political mess we are in away from that. I think we need to consider serious examination of his actions and potential next steps,” wrote one Ontario chief.

“National Chief Atleo should take a permanent leave. He should step down for breach of mandate because he would not take formal direction or the treaty nations should order the AFN to cease and desist from any negotiations or discussions regarding the numbered treaties, ” wrote one political aide from Manitoba.

Ernie Crey, who is a policy adviser for the Stó:lō Tribal Council in British Columbia, says those looking to oust Atleo are doing so for selfish reasons.

"It's a small clutch of chiefs who are riffing off the hoopla around [Idle No More] to find a short cut to power in the AFN. They were crushed by Atleo in the last AFN election a few months back...and they can't live with the results. Sore losers," he told Yahoo! Canada News in an email exchange.

"They hope to either engineer Atleo's departure from the AFN or get him to step down as a result of their antics and stunts."

For the time being, however, it looks as if Atleo has won a reprieve.

According to Globe and Mail, a planned discussion between regional chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations about the process for holding a non-confidence vote against National Chief Shawn Atleo has been put off indefinitely.

One of Atleo's most vocal critics of his decision to meet with the prime minister, Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, told CBC News that that he is not organizing any challenge to to the leadership.

"Considering mounting a challenge to his leadership makes the presumption that it's all Shawn's fault, and I'm not ready to make that conclusion at all," he said.

[ Related: Not ready to push Atleo out, Manitoba chief says ]

"We're going to give the national chief the benefit of the doubt for the time being and we're going try and work with him to rectify what's going on. And we'll deal with it at the right time."

Crisis averted — at least for now.