Ahousaht Hereditary Chief Shawn Atleo, who is also Vancouver Island University’s Chancellor, won a second three-year term as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
The eight-candidate roster for the nation’s top aboriginal spot was reduced to three after two rounds of balloting at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Wednesday afternoon.
Atleo won on the third and final ballot with 341 out of 512 votes. Mi’kmaw lawyer Pam Palmater placed second with 141 votes. AFN Northwest Territory regional chief Bill Erasmus placed third with 30 votes.
The AFN’s 633 member first nations determine by a 60 per cent majority who the national chief will be. Only chiefs or their proxies may vote.
“We will take our rightful place in our respective territories,” Atleo told an assembly hall packed with chiefs after three rounds of voting. “We will stand together and put the final stake in colonialism. We will reject government’s attempt to deny or extinguish our rights.”
Palmater was Atleo’s most ardent critic, both before and during the election, and often criticized him for being too close to Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government.
“We’re going to keep going,” Palmater said after the election. “This is a movement that won’t stop now. Our movement is strong.”
The claim is invalid, said Atleo, adding that there’s a long and maybe bumpy road ahead.“Massive transformative change is required right now. I do feel we are at a moment of reckoning right now, an incredible moment of reckoning, not just for First Nations but for this country,” he said.
“The path forward is only going to be hard or harder. It’s going to be harder if governments don’t come to the table and deal with First Nations in a respectful, rightful manner.”
Policy discussion by all eight candidates during the election hinted that issues such as federal environmental law, resource revenue sharing, and pending water legislation will define future aboriginal relations with the federal government.
Atleo was first elected as AFN national chief in 2009.
The AFN is based out of Ottawa and the provinces and territories in its constituency have regional representatives.
The AFN liaises with the federal government and advocates for issues such as lands, resources, education, economic development and existing treaty rights.
Atleo was installed as VIU’s Chancellor in September 2008, becoming the First Aboriginal Chancellor in the province of B.C. In May 2011, VIU’s Board of Governors accepted the recommendation of the VIU Alumni Association and unanimously approved Atleo’s reappointment as Chancellor for a second three-year term.
“We are very proud of Chief Atleo and the work he is doing to advance opportunities for First Nations in B.C. and across Canada, and in raising the profile of Canadian First Nations internationally,” said VIU president Ralph Nilson. “Chief Atleo has been a constant advocate for the empowerment of First Nations people and their communities. He is a strong supporter of education at all levels and as Chancellor, has played a significant role in shaping the evolving agenda of Vancouver Island University.”