OTTAWA — Regional chiefs from across the country are meeting in Ottawa this week to determine how they’ll choose a new leader after the sudden resignation last week of Shawn Atleo.
The executive committee of the Assembly of First Nations is reviewing their charter and may decide to appoint a temporary national chief now or wait to hold a leadership vote later.
“The AFN executive is meeting this week to determine next steps based on the AFN charter. This may include appointing an interim national chief,” spokesman Alain Garon said in an email.
“We will be sharing this information with First Nations as soon as possible this week.”
On Friday, Atleo called a snap news conference and abruptly quit, saying he wanted to avoid being a distraction in the ongoing debate over the Conservative government’s proposed changes to First Nations education.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt’s office says the controversial legislation is on hold until the assembly determines its next steps. MPs were scheduled to continue debating the bill Monday evening.
“With the support of the Assembly of First Nations, our government introduced historic legislation … in April,” Valcourt spokeswoman Erica Meekes said in an email.
“However, given the recent resignation of the national chief, following today’s second reading vote, any further consideration of this legislation will be put on hold until the AFN clarifies its position.”
Atleo is the first sitting national chief to resign from the Assembly of First Nations.
The organization’s charter states that the executive committee as a whole should assume the national chief’s role and duties until other arrangements are made by the First Nations-in-Assembly, which consists of all the chiefs whose First Nations belong to the AFN.
Conservative MP Rob Clarke, chair of his party’s aboriginal caucus, said the government will hold off until it has a chance to consult with the group’s next national chief.
“Currently, it’s going to be reviewed because Mr. Atleo stepped down,” Clarke said Monday following question period. “Once a new chief will be sitting, we’ll be probably talking to him.”
Some First Nations groups criticized Atleo for supporting the bill.
They say if passed, the legislation would strip away their rights and give the federal government too much control over the education of their children.
But Valcourt’s office has defended Bill C-33, dubbed the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, saying it meets the five conditions outlined by the AFN and chiefs during a meeting in December.
Regional chiefs attending the meeting at the AFN’s office in downtown Ottawa were tight-lipped Monday. None of the chiefs contacted by The Canadian Press have responded to requests for comment.