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Canadians have to push their government, says Atleo
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo spoke passionately at a Ryerson University convocation, leaving no doubt that First Nations are frustrated with promises broken by the federal government. He said Canadians have a role to play in ensuring equitable treatment for First Nations people.
“You too can be a part of this journey. You can play an important role in transforming this country … into a better, stronger, more fair and just Canada. There is so much more that can be done and must be done,” Atleo said at the Faculty of Community Services convocation ceremony on Oct. 19, where he was also bestowed with an honourary doctor of laws degree.
“In this struggle we look beyond our own circle in this work and reach out to all Canadians, extending a hand to invite everyone who will walk with us on this journey.”
Atleo said the work already undertaken by non-First Nations institutions such as Ryerson University provided valuable partnerships for First Nations. But a similar partnership is not obvious with the federal government.
Atleo slammed the Conservatives for their actions following the First Nations-Crown gathering held in January, a meeting which had been pushed by Atleo.
“Much was promised by Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper and his ministers. Much less was delivered. And the clock is ticking, my friends. My people will not wait on the delivery of promises forever. And we’ve seen the tragedies that explode when patience runs out,” he said.
Broken promises have been prevalent from first contact with Europeans, Atleo said, where treaties were signed to live in mutual respect and sharing.
“First Nations have kept our word. Canada’s record is less than admirable, to put it most gently,” said Atleo.
The National Chief said First Nations are tired of the cycle that the federal government continues to perpetuate: promises made, promises broken. This, he said, leads to anger on the part of First Nations and eventual confrontation. That in turn leads to the government establishing a task force or commission, which leads to recommendations and to new promises. And the cycle starts over.
“My people are fed up with this vicious cycle and you should be too,” he said. “The fire for change is igniting across this land. The passion of our people is sparking a demand for a new direction. When our people see no movement from the government to work for us … the flames not only grow stronger, the voices grow louder and our people will not stand for it. Rightly so.”
Atleo challenged the graduates to be “agents of change, to fight for social justice in a Canada that embraces that original treaty relationship as the way forward. Together we can return to this path of partnership.”
That path, he said, would see First Nations move out from under the control of the Indian Act and paternalism, and achieve equity, where there is adequate funding for housing, education, and safe communities; where First Nations families would no longer be living in poverty or losing custody of their children. It would see First Nations not only get revenue from the resources on their land but benefit from training, employment and economic development.
“We owe it to our children to seize and drive every opportunity for change and we are putting plans on the tableÖ We know there are ways we can work together that benefit all Canadians and honour the promise we made to one another (through treaty),” said Atleo. “We together can create change in our lifetime. You (graduates) can deliver the change that will allow us to avoid the confrontations of the past.”
Atleo’s recognition from Ryerson, the highest award the university can confer, is the fourth honourary doctorate he has received this year. He was presented with an honourary doctorate of laws degree from Queen’s University; honourary doctorate of civil laws degree from Bishop’s University; and, an honourary doctorate of technology degree from British Columbia Institute of Technology. In 2010, he received an honourary doctorate of education degree from Nipissing University.
“Education is particularly important to me and to all First Nations. The leadership and I have been pressing on the priority of education as the key that unlocks the full potential of First Nations people,” said Atleo.
Morley Googoo, regional chief for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, who holds the portfolio for education for the AFN, said Atleo’s recognition is well-deserved.
“I know National Chief personally has been a very strong advocate on education and in my dealings with him in just over a year, I’ve grown to admire his passion,” said Googoo.
Atleo graduated in 2003 with a Masters of Education in Adult Learning and Global Change from the University of Technology (Australia) in partnership with University of British Columbia, University of the Western Cape (South Africa), and Linkoping University (Sweden). In 2008, he was appointed as chancellor of Vancouver Island University, becoming BC’s first Indigenous chancellor.
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