“Six years in Ottawa. That was enough,” said A-in-chut Shawn Atleo today at Maht Mahs. “Six winters in Ottawa, that was enough,” he laughed. “I’m really happy to be home. I’m very happy to be home.”
A-in-chut, Ahousaht Ha’wilth and former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was stood up this morning by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and wrapped in a blanket, paid tribute to for his hard work on behalf of Nuu-chah-nulth-aht, and First Nations in British Columbia and across Canada.
“We thought it was really important to hold up one of our own,” NTC Vice President Ken Watts told the delegates gathered for the organization’s annual general meeting Sept. 30. NTC wanted to remind A-in-chut of where he came from, that there are many people here that support him.
“Whatever [his] choices are in life and whatever [he’s] been through, we always stand behind A-in-chut and the amazing work that he has done on behalf of our people.”
Watts said that A-in-chut has inspired many young people in Nuu-chah-nulth communities. “It’s not too often that we see a Nuu-chah-nulth person on TV representing thousands in hundreds of communities.” Watts described Atleo as a role model and mentor who has carried himself in a good way according the principle of iisaak (respect).
“I really want to acknowledge A-in-chut for the way he has walked upon this earth.” Watts wants A-in-chut to remember that “we are all here to support you as Nuu-chah-nulth. We are all here to stand by you and walk with you.”
President Debra Foxcroft said she could see that “my brother Shawn” was going to do great things, “and he has done that… I’ve seen him in action at all levels. He’s a very humble person, but he’s very knowledgeable, not only in our Nuu-chah-nulth ways but as a true leader. I looked up to you… I respect you.”
After Foxcroft and NTC Executive Director Florence Wylie wrapped A-in-chut in a blanket, a chant was sung by Wickaninnish, Cliff Atleo, who then spoke for A-in-chut in the Nuu-chah-nulth language. A-in-chut first acknowledged the passing of an elder, Barb from the Touchie family, who was instrumental in the revitalization and the preservation of the language. Wickaninnish then said A-in-chut “was proud to be able to serve as the national chief on our behalf and behalf of all British Columbia and on behalf of all of Canada, always with the knowledge that the people here at home supported him. And he’s grateful,” said Wickaninnish.
Speaking to the gathering, A-in-chut said it was with “deep, deep gratitude” to be standing with the Ahousahts at the meeting, especially on a day when NTC was acknowledging “Orange Shirt Day,” a commemoration of the child in each of us and the legacy of residential school system.
“Part of the privilege of serving as national chief is to be at moments like the one where I witnessed up in Williams Lake the story of a girl who had her favourite shirt taken away going to residential school only to see it show up on another child in town. And it was a sad moment that they’ve now turned around to something to celebrate. To celebrate survival. To celebrate that we are still here, that our culture is still alive, that our language is still spoken around this table.
“I want to thank you for your tremendous support, for your prayers. I’m very thankful for the experiences that I’ve had.” He said it reminded him that we are stronger when we come together.
“We’ve inherited a powerful legacy that suggests that we are stronger when we come together. When we recognize the ties that bind, our bloodlines, that we share a territory, we share a thirst and an interest in making sure that our people and our lands are cared for. That we can keep coming together like this, forge a vision over the long-term, and look forward into the future, that future generations will look back and they’ll say, ‘when it was their time, they were thinking of us. They were continually working to revive our language, strengthen our culture, work to overcome our differences and find ways to come together as Nuu-chah-nulth.
“We find ourselves at an important juncture in our history and we are going to continue to shape the world around us, not only in this region on Vancouver Island, not only in British Columbia, not just in Canada, but, for Indigenous peoples, this is our moment worldwide as well. And it’s a beautiful moment. It’s filled with challenge, but it’s also filled with tremendous opportunity. Thank you for your support over these years.”
Tseshaht spokesperson Les Sam stood to acknowledge A-in-chut’s many achievements. He said when he first met Atleo in 2004 and talked with him for a while, he thought ‘wow, we have a special person, a gifted person here that’s going to go places.” Sam remembered the long days of the first AFN election in Calgary when it took eight ballots to get Atleo elected.
“The victory was good. We savoured that victory and we were proud of you ever since,” Sam said.
“We know, as you move in politics, sometimes your canoe becomes a little waterlogged, it gets too heavy to paddle, or it leaks, takes on water and sometimes you have to jump into a new canoe.”
Greg Louie, elected chief of Ahousaht, had his community stand with him as he told A-in-chut how proud they are of him
“You represented Ahousaht well. Thank you very much on behalf of your people.”