Atleo to press private sector on respect for aboriginal treaty rights – by Tamara Baluja (Globe and Mail – July 20, 2012)

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 Following the lead of many chiefs who demanded the AFN take a more assertive role,
the AFN passed a resolution calling for the eviction of mining companies in Northern
Ontario’s Ring of Fire.”We’re being bullied by a giant mining company and a
desperate province,” Chris Moonias, a band councillor from the Neskantaga First
Nation, told the assembled chiefs.

With natives feeling ignored on key treaty rights, Shawn Atleo, the newly re-elected Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says the advocacy organization will take the conversation directly to businesses on resource development. At the same time, he didn’t rule out delaying key projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline.

“The chiefs are standing together and saying if you do not deal with the recognition of our title rights, it will not result in more efficient development,” he said the day after he was re-elected to a three-year term as national chief of Canada’s largest aboriginal organization.

With billions of dollars at stake in projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline and mines in Northern Ontario, Canadian business leaders have urged politicians to give aboriginal communities a larger role in the development of Canada’s energy industry.

Resource development is the priority of Mr. Atleo’s second term as national chief. Chiefs from across the country are urging him to take a more hard-line approach on the issue, seeing it as their ticket to economic prosperity. It’s a priority for Ottawa and the provincial governments, too.

The test for the AFN under Mr. Atleo will be keeping all three parties – chiefs, the federal government and businesses – at the table. He will face a challenge balancing the role of conciliator with Ottawa with the need to stand behind chiefs who want blockades, while simultaneously attracting businesses.

So far, Mr. Atleo has the attention of corporations. Canadian business leaders, in a report by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives released ahead of the AFN’s assembly, called for politicians to bring aboriginal communities more fully on board in energy development.

“It feels like we’re finally being heard. … That there is a good business reason for businesses to invest in our young people,” Mr. Atleo said. “It’s important that first nations not simply be an afterthought.”

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