Thursday, July 23, 2009

New AFN national chief

So, Shawn Atleo will be the new national chief of the AFN. This is what many expected, but most did not expect the long, protracted battle to get there for him. It is also the case Atleo did not even obtain the required 60 per cent threshold. I think he ended up receiving 58 per cent of the vote, which prompted Bellegarde to concede defeat.
Some thoughts on Atleo. He is a younger, polished, telegenic candidate with an eye towards working with Ottawa and he is committed to working with the private sector to lift First Nations out of poverty. He would likely be eager to reach deals with natural resource companies developing FN traditional territories. This might get him into conflict with some more ardent traditionalists.
Some disappoints with him, for me, would be his avoidance of the band-level accountability issues. His own campaign website says that First Nation leaders face "unfounded assertions" of lack of accountability. This is avoiding the problems that are so obvious as to defy the imagination. This is part and parcel of the chiefs-only system. Atleo cannot attack the chiefs that select him.
This brings me to the second major issue which is AFN reform. John Beaucage from Ontario was the only candidate who openly discussed changing the national chief selection process to make it more representative and open. It was disheartening that he did such a poor showing on the first ballot.
Some people point to some undemocratic aspects of the mainstream non-Aboriginal political system when I bring this up. They mention that prime ministers and premiers are chosen at party conventions by delegates. But, I counter that by mentioning that at least those delegates are grassroots Canadians. Second, at least every Canadians has the chance to vote for a local candidate who indirectly impacts who the prime minister will be.
Pointing to the un-democratic aspects of the mainstream system does not change the reality that the AFN system is even MORE undemocratic than the mainstream in so many ways. The AFN race can be compared to a leadership convention where only leaders are welcome and then it ends there. At least in the mainstream, all candidates for PM face general election, and after all, many voters base their local selection based on their perception of the national leader they want as PM.
Anyways, Atleo ignored the AFN's own 2005 Renewal Commissison report which called for one-member, one vote.
Lastly, I am worried Atleo will end up opposing any governmental efforts or legislation that will improve the lives of average indigenous people. His commitment to a rights-based agenda is fine, it is means standing up for treaty resolution and supporting constitutional rights, but it should be taken so far as to hide behind self-government rhetoric every time Ottawa moves to engage FNs in progressive reform.
Also, Atleo is a BC leader where treaties are being negotiated in a modern context. One thoughtful reporter friend of mine mentioned that this may make Atleo more amenable to negotiations and new ways of thinking. Let's hope so!

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