Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Harper-First Nations Meeting Was Only Round One in a Long, Hard Haul

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Harper-First Nations Meeting Was Only Round One in a Long, Hard Haul

Article excerpt

Harper-chiefs meeting only Round One


OTTAWA - Over the past few days, as National Chief Shawn Atleo has been buffeted by harsh division among chiefs, protesters in the streets and a hunger protest with no obvious resolution, there were "fleeting" moments when he wondered whether he should stick with the job.

He persevered, inspired by the people he meets on a regular basis on reserves.

But as everyone took a deep breath on Saturday after a tumultuous week of politicking and brinkmanship that culminated in a chiefs' meeting with Stephen Harper on Friday afternoon, Atleo, the chiefs, the government and the protesters are all gearing up for an equally difficult Round 2.

"To be honest, I don't thing any of us who face challenges don't have fleeting moments about how challenging these are," the national chief said in an interview after he and his team left Harper's office in Ottawa's Langevin Block.

"But I'm driven by the faces of the young people I meet. I'm driven by the horrors of accompanying a family to the morgue when they identify the body which is barely recognizable of their 16-year-old daughter who was brutally murdered."

He reminds himself that none of the bare-knuckle politics he faces is as difficult or as important as the living conditions many First Nations people face daily.

"The challenges that we might face in our daily lives, I know that our people struggle every single day."

Atleo will need that kind of guidance as he turns to implementing the decisions reached between Ottawa and the chiefs. The challenges are immediate.

For one, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is still denying herself solid food, and there seems to be no immediate compromise or solution in the works.

"Yesterday (Friday) was a long day and a long battle for everyone. For now, everyone needs to rest," Danny Metatawabin, Spence's spokesman, said to explain why she was not taking visitors on Saturday. "The hunger strike continues."

The Idle-No-More protesters appeared to be regrouping for further demonstrations in the next week with only a few reports of protest activity across the country Saturday.

And there was talk of blockades and demonstrations against pipelines and mining development in hot spots across the country.

At the same time, the Assembly of First Nations is fractured, even as it is tasked to figure out if diverse regions can sit down and re-examine the treaties that have defined their relationship with the Crown for decades, or even centuries.

The internal AFN politics are "tremendously difficult," Atleo acknowledged.

Many chiefs wanted to boycott the talks with the prime minister on Friday since Harper would not agree to include the governor-general in the gathering. But Atleo said received many private messages from supporters urging him to proceed with the meeting and he never lost the confidence of his executive. …

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