APTN National News
TORONTO–Up to 10 First Nations could pull away from the Assembly of First Nation as a result of Shawn Atleo’s expected national chief election victory, says Terry Nelson, a former Ojibway chief and candidate who withdrew from the race after the second ballot.
Nelson said there is a handful of chiefs who truly believe that the AFN is “assimilationist” and don’t want to be part of the organization under Atleo’s leadership.
“Some of the chiefs are going to be pretty clear that the AFN is assimilationist as far as they are concerned and they are saying that some of them will be pulling out and some announcements are going to be made this week,” said Nelson.
Nelson said he had heard up to 10 First Nations, primarily in the prairies, could pull away.
Nelson withdrew from the race after getting only 25 votes on the second ballot, down from the 35 he received after the first round of voting.
Atleo missed re-election by three votes after getting 318 votes after the second ballot, shy of the magic number of 321 he needed to get the 60 per cent necessary to claim victory.
Nelson threw his support behind Mi’kmaq lawyer and Ryerson professor Pam Palmater who ran second behind Atleo on both ballots, getting 95 and 107 votes.
Nelson said it’s “mathematically impossible” to beat Atleo at this point.
“It’s a lost vote,” said Nelson. “The government has to understand there is a lot of anger and frustration and the election was about the anger people are feeling and frustration.”
Still, Palmater’s team was clawing for every last vote.
“It’s three votes away but never say die,” said a Palmater campaign official.
Palmater managed to land the endorsement of Mohawk activist Ellen Gabriel after she dropped off following the second ballot, getting 17 votes.
Palmater’s campaign was also hoping to woo former Treaty 3 grand chief Diane Kelly’s endorsement.
Kelly, however, decided not to back anyone. She called it quits after the second ballot after seeing her vote total drop to 34 on the second ballot from 39 she got in the first round of voting.
Dene Nation National Chief Bill Erasmus is still in the race, after seeing his vote total rise to 34 on the second ballot from 29 on the first.
Little Black Bear First Nation Chief Perry Bellegarde said it was time for all Atleo’s opponents to fold their campaigns. Bellegarde battled Atleo over eight ballots in 2009.
“Now it’s on the third ballot, it’s very close. I think a lot of our chiefs are saying it’s only three votes away from the 60 per cent…I think we should mandate the national chief, let’s close our circle back and get united,” said Bellegard, who is in the running to lead the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. “To me it’s almost inevitable now with only three votes away. Our national chief will be Shawn Atleo. The candidates hanging on are very principled…but at some point there is a point and we are probably at that point.”
Responding to Nelson’s statement that some communities were considering pulling out of the AFN, Bellegarde said it would be better if First Nations all pulled together.
“To me you try to find processes that unite our people rather than divide and there is more common ground that brings us together than divide us,” he said. “If people want to assert their jurisdiction and sovereignty as a First Nations community and pull out of the AFN, that is their right.”