Shawn Atleo Elected AFN Chief

Some backstory on Assembly of First Nations chief Shawn Atleo's ascension.

Some backstory on Assembly of First Nations chief Shawn Atleo’s ascension.

British Columbia businessman Shawn Atleo became the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations on the morning of July 23, 2009, when the sole remaining contender, Perry Bellegarde, conceded defeat after the eighth ballot. [Video report of Atleo’s election here, from CBC; the Globe and Mail’s write-up here.]

The eight ballots cast over a period of more than 23 hours made for the longest election in AFN history. Atleo and Bellegarde were tied until the sixth ballot, at which time Atleo opened up a small lead.

BCBusiness profiled Atleo in February 2008 (“Born Leader,” by David Jordan). In his interview, the then-AFN B.C. regional chief said a number of interesting things that there wasn’t room to print. We include them for you below, and we offer our congratulations to Shawn Atleo, the new national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. (Look for Atleo on Twitter, at @shawnatleo.)

Atleo, in his own words

My traditional name is A-in-chut [ah IN chut]. When I became hereditary chief it was passed to me by my father. A-in-Chut means “people depend on you.” In the hereditary system when you come from a line of leaders really the training begins at birth. Even as a child I remember the elders speaking to me in Ahousaht language and pointing across the inlet at the mountains and saying, “One day those will be yours to be responsible for.”

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I’m 40. There aren’t too many of my friends that have made it to this age – the high social ills, the violence, suicides. Unfortunately friend after friend dropped off over the years.

I have a 21-year-old boy and an 18-year-old girl. I don’t want them to inherit the depth of the gap that I grew up in. I’m hoping that my generation are narrowing that so that their children, my grandchildren will have less to worry about than the day-to-day struggles of life, and the brilliance of being able to choose a profession and a career that is less about a struggle for justice than about just tapping into their human potential. That’s my hope.

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Reconciliation for it to be true and meaningful means that there should be equitable perspectives on the reconciliation. It shouldn’t be me being reconciled to your world view, your opinion, and therefore how the future should look. It’s not about me reconciling to you, or you reconciling to me. [B.C. Supreme Court Justice David Vickers in his 2008 Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia decision] actually said that B.C. and Canada have demonstrated “an impoverished view” of title.

Reconciliation that’s been attempted so far has been one sided, has been inequitable. I and other leaders are calling for a more equitable perspective of reconciliation. Particularly recognition of coexisting titles and we need to figure out how that will work in the landscape. So Chief Williams and the premier are going to take a four month time out to work out whether they can reach a mutual understanding of what the court said.

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On whether Gordon Campbell’s New Relationship is really a new relationship

The new relationship is aspirations. We’ve had 150 years of disconnect, nonrecognition and really deep denial. I hope the New Relationship doesn’t take 150 years. But if we’re on a long journey, I think we made progress on a long journey toward a new relationship. We’re striving for it. I don’t believe it has arrived today, and I don’t think it will arrive tomorrow.

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As Delgamuukw said in 1997, we’re all here to stay; we’ve got to find out a way to do this together.

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On business leaders who may not think First Nations relations are relevant to them

… The aboriginal population is the most youthful, burgeoning population of Canada, and that should be seen as a tremendous human-resources potential we should be tapping into. We should be seen from all those perspectives because we’re going to be bringing a lot of value into business conversations. Resolution of land claims is going to be tremendous; it’s going to be billions in this province alone.

So if business leaders aren’t thinking in terms of social justice, then take a look at us for partnership possibilities because we’re going to make great business partners, and we already are, from the micro credit level of financing of mom and pop operations in a reserve setting to major resource partnerships.