Alberta Regional Chief George Stanley understands the importance of treaty and says it should not be buried among other items on the national agenda.
Stanley comes from five generations of chiefs and when the treaties were signed in the 1800s his family was the keeper of the sacred bundle that was used. Today, Stanley’s family remains the keeper of the sacred bundle, something he is proud of.
“I’m very deep-rooted in treaties. I understand the sacredness and the power of treaties,” said Stanley, who is hoping to trade in his position as Regional Chief in Alberta for the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. “I’m very concerned as how our treaties are eroded by the federal government…. As our Elders say today, treaties are non-negotiable. So I am standing beside that word of our Elders.”
Stanley contends that National Chief Shawn Atleo’s lack of understanding of the importance of treaties was obvious at the First Nations-Crown gathering which took place in January.
“We were hoping that our National Chief would prioritize our treaties, how we want to implement them. It was very upsetting, and many leaders that I went with, from Alberta, even from the Prairies, said (Atleo’s) message wasn’t that the (treaties) were the first priority,” said Stanley, a former Chief and band councillor with Frog Lake First Nation, in eastern Alberta.
“Their main concern is how I could bring about this priority as National Chief,” said Stanley. He points out that he was asked by 15 chiefs to seek the leadership of the AFN.
“This is something I’m very deeply concerned about. How we protect our rights not today, but for the younger generation and also the unborn,” said Stanley. “We have to pave the way for them, for today and for tomorrow.”
Treaties, coupled with natural resource sharing, are the first of four pillars that make up Stanley’s platform.
The second pillar is economic development, something Stanley has years of experience with. After leaving a 10-and-a-half-year career with the RCMP because of health issues, Stanley became a self-employed small businessman, undertaking consultation work with First Nations to develop their economic base. From that work, Stanley realized the importance of partnerships in the development of the oil and gas industry on his First Nation as well as the need to invest profits for the future so revenue is available in times of hardship, including federal funding cutbacks.
“When I got elected as Chief (of Frog Lake), we developed a more strategic plan toward governance, where we could seriously take this and test it and test it and once we see that we could advance ourselves to invest with great partners … we see that’s the only way we can move forward with our business,” he said. Money through economic development can be used for education and to meet other needs on the First Nation.
The second pillar also includes First Nations jurisdiction in gaming.
The third pillar is mineral, energy and pipeline development on traditional lands.
“There is much, much concern … in the eyes of Canadians” over Bill C-38, says Stanley. The omnibus bill pushes the development of the land without regard to treaty rights.
The fourth pillar is a myriad of national issues such as crime, youth, education, safe water and adequate housing. Stanley notes that he has held the justice portfolio for AFN, which includes advancing the cause of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, and his experience with the RCMP allows him to “speak the language” to help negotiate what is needed by First Nations.
Stanley says he is “grounded to the community issues,” which gives him understanding and allows him to advocate more strongly for what is needed. He says he has been told that he is a “visionary leader. I have a plan to put into practise.”
Stanley says he was raised by a chief to be a chief.
“I was born with politics, exposed to politics. My dad taught me about politics. What is a leader and what does a leader do?” he said. “I hold my shoulders up when I know I have to present and represent my people in a certain area.”
Stanley is critical of what he sees as the AFN’s role as a reactionary organization.
“We need the AFN to be more proactive. We need it to take action,” he said, noting that as far as he is concerned the AFN is spread “too thin,” taking on too many issues and “the capacity is not there.”
“We’re not making any headway as promised by our National Chief. I’m always looking forward every day to when it’s going to be happening, what actions are going to be taken,” he said.