By Tamara Baluja, Globe and Mail, July 18, 2012
Shawn Atleo is just three votes shy of being re-elected as the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, coming out of the second ballot Wednesday with a strong lead of 318 votes.
Mi’kmak lawyer Pam Palmater was the runner-up again in the second ballot, garnering 107 votes. She has been a vocal critic of Mr. Atleo’s tenure at the helm of the AFN, saying he was too close with the Harper government and had little to show for it.
Mr. Atleo, the hereditary chief of the Ahousaht First Nation in B.C., needs 321 votes or 60 per cent of the ballot to secure the office. He received 284 votes in the first ballot.
Many observers speculated the race would turn into a two-person race between Mr. Atleo and Ms. Palmater. However the second ballot results show Mr. Atleo is on track for re-election.
Roughly 535 first nations chiefs and their proxies casted their ballots in the second round of voting in Toronto on Wednesday to choose the new national chief.
First, we would to congratulate Mr. Atleo, hopefully not prematurely, for his re-election as Chief of the AFN. And next, we would like to take this opportunity to share some words of wise, reflective and controversial observation from John Ralston Saul's book, A Fair Country, Telling Truths About Canada that are merely an attempt to expand on the "newsworthiness" of the moment.
And so, in a self-destructive expression of colonialism, the dominant intellectual current in common use in Canada, whether among anglophones or francophones, remained the European, with its fear of complexity, its idea of linear progress and its racial underpinnings. It remains today the dominant intellectual current.
This was a contradictory situation. The signals flashing out of the Canadian experience simply didn't match the public discourse they ought to have been illuminating. It wasn't surprising then that the idea of First Nations civilization as inferior and therefore destined to disappear ran parallel to the apparently contradictory view that we newcomers were the logical successors to this great old civilization. As successors we were to inherit their natural relationship to this place--the mythological aspect as what we call ownership. In some ways this was the benign theme of the summer camps to which so many children were and are sent.
In this inheritance scenario, the Indians were our Greeks--out Athenians, our Spartans. Like the Romans, we were mere farmers or, more recently, manufacturers, paper pushers,service industry workers, increasingly cut off in real life from this remarkable land. And there they were, our predecessors, in Thomas King's words,"wild, free, powerful, noble, handsome, philosophical, eloquent, solitary." And romantic though this image might be, it was attached to a certain reality. In the 1889's, the poet Charles Mair, who had passed part of his life on the prairies when the two civilizations were
manoeuvring for power, found he had to defend his epic poem, Tecumseh, because of the noble language he had put in the native leader's mouth. "I have never yet heard the Indian speak but as a sensible, intelligent man, fully alive to his interests and conscious of his rights, expressing himself always in language of remarkable vigor and directness."...
The problem with all these attitudes toward the Aboriginals was that they assumed the inevitability of their disappearance and, in the meantime, the disappearance of their culture and thus their voice. Yet somehow, mysteriously, there they were in the First World War, carrying much more than their share of the nation's battlefield burden. To all intentsive purposes, they did seem to be defending their country. This country. And again, between the wars, in spite of mistreatment of their returning veterans, there they were, speaking up in protest, with dignity, as their population began to make a comeback. And again, there they were, carrying more than their share in the Second World War; and from the 1950's on, growing ever faster, finding new ways to speak up, getting back the vote, occupying a growing space in the public discourse. Somehow, they just didn't understand the inevitability of Western Civilization's victory sufficiently to fade away gracefully into a grand and noble myth for us to inherit....
It is the courts that are gradually forcing Canadians to deal with their historic obligations. And the voices of goodwill in the populations at large are stronger than they have been for perhaps a century and a half. But the consciously stated philosophy of our country still has not changed. In place of any organized disappearance policy, we have that new racism I have already mentioned--that which focuses us on Aboriginals as people in trouble with drugs, drink, abuse an so on. We have trained ourselves not to see the Aboriginal nature of Canadian society. And we have developed blinkers to avoid seeing what does work in Aboriginal communities. And a great deal works well.
We don't talk about the seven thousand Aboriginal students in universities and colleges in Saskatchewan and the thousands in other provinces. Or the experiment with radically decentralized government in Nunavut, which is dependent on high-tech communications. Or the success of the Makivik Corporation in Nunavik, where the Inuit have used the James Bay Settlement money to build the largest business empire in the North. Or myriad experiments with new approaches to education across the country. Or the remarkable success of the Haida in slowly getting Haida Gwaii off the old pulp and paper treadmill to forest extinction. In 2007, they convinced the B.C. government to co-operate in transferring yet another large chunk of the archipelago to a very non-Wedstern land-use model. This put about half of the Haida Gwaii onto a circular approach that their elected president, Guujaaw, says will bring cultural, environmental and economic interests into balance....(.30-33)
Arguing eloquently for a three-legged stool of three forming cultures, french, english and aboriginal in Canada, Saul exhorts Canadians to embrace our diversity, in the form of the aboriginal circle that continues to open to welcome "the other" whether they be immigrants, or people choosing to move to Canada in an embrace of welcome, and of divergent opinions that can be resolved, and of our complexity that differs significantly from the linear, tidy, unambiguous certainty of the european tradition and culture that operates in our southern neighbour, the U.S. Saul also points to the "oral culture" of the aboriginal tradition, a culture which Canadian courts are beginning to value even over the written word of the europeans, especially in their negotiations with the aboriginals in the land treaties.
Now, what follows, is neither prompted by any outside agent, nor sponsored by any organization, political party, or backroom operative. It is merely an assessment of the Canadian truths, along with the blindspots of our vision, and a sincere desire and attempt to move the country forward celebrating our authentic heritage in ways never before contemplated.
What I am proposing is that, should Shawn Atleo be re-elected formally and decisively as Chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Canada, by his people, his name be placed in nomination as candidate for the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. There is a synergy to the historic moment in Canadian political life that requires both new thinking and new attitudes and new approaches to our governance, along with new leaders that can and will inspire our next decade. We cannot and we must not rest on the laurels of a solid banking system, and a teetering health care system, and a non-existent environmental policy or agenda, and a resource-based petro-dollar.
We must bring all Canadians into the circle of hope, education, dialogue and opportunity to serve our nation, currently floundering on the edge of a narrow, and even a niche-marketing government that neither understands our history and culture nor represents our highest and best ideals and aspirations.
The election of Shawn Atleo, first to the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada and subsequently to the office of Prime Minister would elevate the hopes and lives of not only aboriginals across the country, but also raise the level of hope and aspiration of all people living in Canada.