By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
WINNIPEG–Tensions over Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo’s leadership spilled onto the floor of the 8th floor conference hall at the Marlborough Hotel in Winnipeg this week during a meeting between Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan chiefs.
During the closed-door meeting, Grand Rapids First Nation Councillor Ovide Mercredie, a strong Atleo supporter and former AFN national chief, took to the microphone on Wednesday and berated the chiefs present over their lack of loyalty to the national chief and the AFN.
Mercredi did not return calls requesting comment.
“(Mercredi) said I support Shawn and I don’t want to hear AFN bashing or Shawn bashing,” according to a source who was present at the meeting.
Mercredi also personally confronted Serpent River First Nation Chief Isadore Day, whose community is in Ontario, on the sidelines of the meeting over the same issue.
Day, however, wouldn’t comment on the incident.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said Mercredi’s statements were “offensive” to some of the people in the room.
“There was a lot of emotion; there was anger in his statement. He even said he was angry. He used a bit of profanity,” said Nepinak. “There was posturing involved in the statement, which I found to be disrespectful, because where I come from, when people posture it means you are scared of something. I don’t know what he is afraid of. I believe we come together as friends and people who respect one another.”
Mercredi still carries considerable political weight within First Nation political circles and he swung it behind Atleo during this past summer’s AFN election for national chief.
Mercredi also played a key role in the lead up to the Jan. 11 meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Atleo and First Nations leaders. He was involved in 11th hour discussions with Harper’s chief of staff Nigel Wright over a demand by a number of chiefs who had travelled to Ottawa that the meeting be held in a larger venue.
The Prime Minister’s Office, however, stuck to the original plan and the meeting was held at the Langevin Block, across from Parliament Hill.
Chiefs from Manitoba, Ontario and the Northwest Territories boycotted the meeting because they claimed it was being done on Harper’s terms and did not meet the demands of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. Spence launched her now-ended fast to force a meeting between the prime minister, Gov. Gen. David Johnston and all First Nations leaders.
On the eve before the meeting, Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Wallace Fox, Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee and Day called on Atleo to cancel the meeting.
Some chiefs from the prairies and Ontario say they feel Atleo is pushing the agenda of British Columbia chiefs at the expense of their own agenda which is based on re-establishing the Crown-First Nations relationship on the numbered and pre-Confederation treaties. Most of B.C. is not covered by treaties and many chiefs there are pushing for modern-day agreements.
Atleo wields considerable support in British Columbia and in a conference call following the Jan. 11 meeting, chiefs there expressed their full support for him and criticized his opposition. One of the chiefs on the call blamed former AFN national chief candidate Pam Palmater for fomenting dissent.
Atleo’s supporters believe much of the opposition Atleo faces stems from the recent electoral battle that saw Palmater finish a distant second.
Nepinak said during a press conference Thursday that there is now a push to hold an AFN all-chiefs assembly in Saskatoon in early March.
Nepinak also said there was talk of reviving a treaty alliance to push the treaty agenda.