AFN Special Chiefs Assembly - National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo Speaking Points

December 4, 2012

AFN Special Chiefs Assembly  
National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo Speaking Points

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How good it is to see you all.  It’s a tremendous honour to have been re-elected.  Through the campaign and our Assembly, the theme that we must stand up and stand together predominated.  I have no doubt we are stronger together. Now this may be more important than ever before

Five months later, we have had the opportunity to be in almost every region and let me tell you Chiefs, Elders, our youth - there is a powerful and common theme in all of these conversations.

What I hear and what I see in all of the regions is both an absolute determination to push back, to remain rock solid in our rights and identity but an equally firm conviction to push forward our own solutions.   Together we are forever rejecting the status quo and failures of the past.

The path between constructive and principled engagement and confrontation is not easy or simple.  But this is our work.   We have been blunt when we need to.  And we are very clear.

The federal government or any government cannot announce or impose legislation or regulation without our full involvement.  The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples sets the minimal standard of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.  This is our standard and we will not compromise.  We’ve delivered this message to Parliament, and taken it to the highest levels  

At the same time, in every region, in every corner, First Nations are engaged.  There are approximately 100 treaty or self-government negotiations, plus Memorandums of Understanding or agreements in place or nearly in place in Union of Ontario Indians and Nishnawbe Aski Nation territories with the federal government in education, and 182 resource agreements in the mining sector alone directly with First Nations.

The challenge is to support this engagement to success. To achieve the best possible agreements advancing fully our title and rights and responsibilities, sustainability and honoring our inheritance and that what we leave to our children. Driving to best outcomes never settling for lowest common denominator resulting from bad faith and bad policy

We will, as we have, continue to press every avenue, every level of government, the courts and internationally. And we must do this united in our resolve for us to have the impact we desire.

As leaders, we need to seize this moment to come together.  We see important rallies taking place and actions to oppose and stand firm right across the country.  

What we as an Executive agree and propose is the necessity to engage our peoples - recognizing the interconnectedness of our struggle, to transform what others may view as scattered protests easily dismissed, to supporting our citizens to stand together in unity and strength, believing in themselves, affirming our pride and conviction and to stand together. All of us.

This work, that our Executive is prepared to coordinate, is not rallies of a few but a movement of our peoples and nations.  Standing together whether in opposition to what is unacceptable or in support of implementation of agreements and of Treaty.  We must support and engage all of our peoples.  

A movement that recalls the most poignant moments of social change like the civil rights era and the million man marches.  This is our time to act.  Our time to stand as leaders gathered here, together with those watching online and those at home.  We are prepared to seize this moment –right here right now - to stand strong in our responsibility honoring our past and taking up our role and our responsibility in the long struggle to inspire and to force change

We owe it to the kids especially, but to every one of our citizens to find the way to engage them in our movement – a movement that affirms and a movement that will grow with new allies, new partners and will generate new understanding and will achieve the positive change that is needed now.

Important anniversaries remind us our work is connected in an unbroken chain.  2013 marks 250 years since the Royal Proclamation.  Here this week we gather to culminate a year of reflection on 30 years since the achievement of section 35.  Here we mark the battles of those who have gone before us with the theme of our Assembly.  We dedicate our work to the memory of our warriors and in particular I am thinking of the recently late Jim Sinclair.

We have victories, and they are our victories. In the midst of the frustration, the seemingly unending challenges and threats, even now feeling under siege, we need to remember to celebrate those victories and praise our citizens and leaders who won them.

One of those victories is the success of the drive for Indian control of Indian education and today First Nations education systems and schools that we have created, based on our culture and our languages and our community values. We have created those opportunities from the Atlantic Canada to the Pacific.   We are reminded that our peoples seizing control and ownership have taken the education of our people from handfuls graduating in the ‘50s, a failure rate of over 90 per cent, to exponential growth and thousands of graduates now, including places like the Mi’kmaq in Atlantic with success now of over 80 per cent.

While we have far to go, we’ve shown that our solutions drive change, our solutions achieve results.  We are making progress on the long journey  

In a moment, I’d like to introduce you to one of our champions and share my time with a young Mi’kmaq leader and one who will give you hope for the great future of our peoples, in the hands of leaders such as Karlee Johnson.

But let me just conclude by saying we have important discussion throughout this agenda on our rights, our responsibilities and the matters that are closest to every one of you as leaders.  Our assembly is designed to drive change.  As part of your materials, you’ve all received the report of mandated actions and priorities – the culmination of now over 40 years of the Assembly of First Nations, of the Chiefs-in-Assembly coming together, setting mandate and direction.

As we have said: We are the peoples of this land and we will not beg.  We have not been conquered.  We, like our ancestors who extended their hands in peace and friendship, will not walk away.   

I want to underscore how important our work here is.  We need to share our strategies and share our ideas and I ask that we come away from these three days firm, clear and united in how we inspire and shape our movement forward – right here, right now.

A movement that harnesses real anger, real frustration – transforming it to real change and hope for our peoples. A movement that becomes a solid, continuous chain, supporting and driving change for all, by all.  By standing firm and standing together, we can achieve the change we desire.  Taking our rightful place as nations in our territories - we will answer the call –we will seize this historic moment.  We will unite and we will overcome.

Kleco, kleco!

Assembly of First Nations