Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo made a special appearance at the NTC Social Issues Forum Jan 26. He was received with much ado; dozens of people stopped to shake hands and chat as Atleo slowly approached the microphone.
“I am happy to be home,” he said with a big smile. He thanked his people for the continued support and prayers. “Without you I wouldn’t be here,” he told them.
Atleo talked about the monumental responsibility of not only hearing, but also representing thousands of first nations people across Canada. He acknowledged those who work by his side and also those in the community who work hard to make the lives of their people better.
He also acknowledged Joseph (Barney) Williams of Tla-o-qui-aht who also works for the AFN on residential school issues. “So at the national level there are two Nuu-chah-nulth there,” said Atleo
Atleo talked about IndigenAction, an initiative led by the AFN Youth Council that is designed to support and enhance opportunities for indigenous people through active lifestyles, sport and fitness.
Through IndigenACTION, Atleo said he and other national leaders will be participating in a marathon as a way to show the people we can create health for ourselves.
How do we achieve health, well-being and balance? asked Atleo. “Think about treaty negotiations and about ha’wilthmis (of chieftainships); so often our leaders talk about rights and title yet what confronts our families on a day to day basis is safety,” he pointed out.
“It’s about vulnerability, relationships between family members and the safety of our people. Think about Tyeshia Jones, the girl missing in Duncan, and missing and murdered women in the Picton case,” said Atleo.
There have been attacks on ha’wilthmis as seen by how the government decides with a stroke of the pen who gets to be Hupacasath, Atleo continued.
In order to achieve health, one must first bring a sense of safety in the home. “You must deal with safety and security of your people every single day. Be very focussed on the kind of conflict we have with each other and how that holds us back,” Atleo advised.
“What about employment? What about child welfare? What about education? There are so many issues. Our people are going out getting educated and coming back,” he said, adding, “We have the brilliance and the ability but we need a quiet, safe, secure place.”
He urges people to return to culture and know the meaning and important lessons in things like the ?iict’uula (puberty ceremony), where chiefs get down on their knees to wash the feet of young ladies, showing respect to the givers of life.
“We can’t really separate social programs and rights and title, the Ha’wiih and their people must work together in order to move forward,” said Atleo.
When it comes to education, the AFN is engaging aboriginal post-secondary students across Canada in virtual summit, or online group discussion. The AFN, led by A-in-chut, held their discussion Jan. 27. They were to explore issues and solutions relating to First Nation post-secondary education.
A major issue surrounds first nations run schools and funding inequities. According to Atleo the average first nations child receives $2000 less per year in education funding than children attending mainstream schools. “Our kids do not get dollars for computers, for language and some don’t have guaranteed access to education, like some first nations children in northern Manitoba, who don’t have schools,” he pointed out.
Atleo said he believes if we close the education and socio-economic gap then we will contribute financially to the Canadian economy; and if the people are safe and secure there’s better chance of achieving success.
“Our children deserve fairness and equity when it comes to education,” said Atleo.