OTTAWA - The abrupt postponement Wednesday of an Assembly of First Nations news conference spoke volumes about the turmoil and mistrust that underlies planning for Friday's meeting between aboriginal leaders and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

National Chief Shawn Atleo is tip-toeing through a minefield as he tries to negotiate a list of demands that must at once satisfy angry chiefs, win over the reluctant Conservative government and keep restless grassroots protests relatively peaceful.

Wednesday's cancellation — the array of chiefs who have been meeting all week to hammer out concrete proposals simply need more time, so they delayed the event until Thursday — was no surprise to those familiar with the complexity of First Nations issues.

Two large groups of chiefs, elders and advisers have been formed, one to deal with treaty and aboriginal rights, and another to deal with economic development. They had hoped to narrow down their grievances and then bring the two groups together to form a consensus on how to present their concerns.

With so many disparate views in the meeting rooms, and a concerted drive to present Harper with an effective, united front, "it was a little bit ambitious to get it all rolled up" by mid-afternoon Wednesday as hoped, Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said in an interview.

"First Nation planning discussions and dialogue continue today. It is essential that this important dialogue continues," Atleo said in a statement.

The national chief's calm and steady manner betrays little of the storm that has besieged Atleo for more than a year.

When he was first elected national chief in 2008, it was on his strength as a negotiator, someone who had respectfully commanded the attention of B.C. politicians and hashed out workable solutions to First Nations problems.

Harper's government proved a tougher nut to crack, and Atleo spent much of his first term as national chief prying open doors and establishing a relationship that he hoped would lead to productive discussions.

Harper's apology for residential schools and then the high-profile Crown First Nations Gathering a year ago in Ottawa spoke to the efforts on both sides to set out a practical path forward that would pave the way towards more self-sufficiency, better education and economic development on reserves.

But the optimism within the AFN and its chiefs crumbled after last January's summit. Large groups of First Nations spoke out against the Atleo-Harper co-operation on education reform. First Nations advocacy groups saw their funding slashed dramatically in the federal budget. And by the time the AFN's elections for the next national chief rolled around in July, Atleo was under fire for being too cosy with the Harper government.

He mustered a solid win, assuring key groups of chiefs that he just needed more time to show positive results.

As summer turned to fall, however, Atleo's support among regional chiefs was faltering quickly. Harper had legislated major changes to environmental oversight and resource development without consulting First Nations; the education initiative with the federal government imploded; and soon, Atleo was issuing public warnings of massive unrest unless Ottawa started to make changes.

“When our people see no movement from the government to work with us, when they see backsliding, undermining and continuing threats and pressures on an already burdened population, the flames only grow stronger," Atleo said in an October speech at Ryerson University in Toronto.

"Our people will not stand for it. Rightly so, there is growing anger and frustration."

Strong words from a normally understated man that went unheeded until December, when chiefs gathered in Ottawa for annual meetings got fed up and marched spontaneously into the parliament buildings.

The quick but aggressive confrontation boiled over into grassroots protests across the country under the Idle No More banner, and into the potent protest launched Dec. 11 by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who is eating only fish broth inside her camp on a small island in the Ottawa River, upstream from Parliament Hill.

"Our people are saying, 'Just a minute here.' We want development, but not at any cost," said Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit in B.C.

With the federal government determined to ram through legislation and attract $650-billion in investment for natural resources at a record pace, John said First Nations are now ready to exercise whatever muscle they have to control the process.

"Now, our people are standing up and our people are engaged," he said.

On Friday, Atleo has a second chance to deliver. But now, with protesters and chiefs at his back, the stakes are higher than a year ago and the expectations more diverse.

"The national chief is a pretty progressive guy ... but his neck is kind of hanging over a bit on this one," said Mark Quinn, a former chief of staff to Robert Nault, who was Indian Affairs minister under Jean Chretien.

"He hasn't been able to deliver."

Key to a First Nations success at this week's meeting will be a firm commitment to modernize the implementation of treaties and aboriginal rights, but that will require far more than a single meeting with the prime minister, all sides acknowledge. The discussion of treaty rights involves First Nations getting a share of the bounty from natural resources.

The most concrete step would be a commitment for high-level political engagement in a series of negotiations to re-examine both treaties and comprehensive claims for areas of the country that don't have treaties, John and Nepinak said.

Whether that's enough to keep the protesters at bay and the chiefs at the table is another question, said Quinn.

"There is a sense that there was going to be a new relationship. There is a lot of pressure at the chiefs' level and the grassroots level. They want an end to this."

Related on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • A native dancer looks on during an 'Idle No More' gathering on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Native dancers rally during an 'Idle No More' gathering on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Idle No More Mall Protest

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/LJ_Henshell"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/630755180/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/LJ_Henshell">LJ Henshell</a>:<br />A First Nations Drummer plays during a protest at Intercity Shopping Center in Thunder Bay, Ontario

  • It's about the future

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/LJ_Henshell"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/630755180/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/LJ_Henshell">LJ Henshell</a>:<br />A child protests in Thunder Bay, Ontario

  • United we stand

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Doug_Cleverley"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/805699678/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Doug_Cleverley">Doug Cleverley</a>:<br />At the #IdleNoMore rally in Owen Sound (Saugeen Ojibway Nation territory), during a spontaneous round dance at the main downtown intersection.

  • Killer Whale Dance

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/4441016.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop">Courtney Harrop</a>:<br />Idle No More actions, Coast Salish Territories, Powell River, BC

  • Idle No More #J11

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/4441016.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop">Courtney Harrop</a>:<br />Coast Salish Territories, Powell River, BC

  • Idle No More #J11 March

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/4441016.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop">Courtney Harrop</a>:<br />Coast Salish Territories, Powell River, BC

  • Tla'Amin Prayer Song #J11 Idle No More

    Tla'Amin Prayer song on #J11 2013 Idle No More, Coast Salish Territories, Powell River BC

  • Tla'Amin Killer Whale Dance, #J11 #IdleNoMore

    Tla'Amin Killer Whale Dance, #J11 #IdleNoMore, Coast Salish Territories, Powell River, BC

  • C45 affects all Canadians! Join the fight.

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Eleanor_Kure"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/840875359/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Eleanor_Kure">Eleanor Kure</a>:<br />At the Idle No More protest in Halifax Nova Scotia. with an eco-justice article in pocket, spreading the word that Bill C45 affects every Canadian, not only First Nations. Thank you FN, for beginning this movement.

  • Piyesiw Awasis

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/mizzren"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/3183681.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/mizzren">mizzren</a>:<br />Thunderchild First Nation @ Lloydminster Flash Mob. January 16, 2013

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/01/16/idle-no-more-queen-elizabeth-2-highway-blockade-alberta_n_2490009.html">Idle No More supporters jump onto a truck</a> as they are pushed by a driver trying to pass, as the protesters block Highway 2 as part of a planned national day of action, in Edmonton, Alberta on Wedneday January 16, 2013.

  • Aboriginal protesters march down Huron Church Road towards the Ambassador bridge in Windsor Ontario, Wednesday, January 16, 2013. About 1000 demonstrators disrupted traffic to the country's busiest border crossing for several hours.

  • Aboriginal protestors pray at the end of their blockade of a CN railroad track just west of Portage La Prairie, Man., on Wednesday, January 16, 2016. They ended their protest without incident.

  • Aboriginal protesters demonstrate at the base of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor Ontario, Wednesday, January 16, 2013. About 1000 demonstrators disrupted traffic to the country's busiest border crossing for several hours.

  • Idle No More demonstrators block a CN east-west track just west of Portage La Prairie, Manitoba Wednesday, January 16, 2016.

  • Mississaugas of the New Credit support INM

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Vicki_King_Jamieson"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/750500023/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Vicki_King_Jamieson">Vicki King Jamieson</a>:<br />New Credit Youth supporting INM

  • Montreal Idle No More

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Caillum"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Caillum">Caillum</a>:<br />Thousands of people, both Native and Canadian, show their support at an Idle No More protest in Montreal on January 11th, 2013.

  • #Denendeh #J11 #IdleNoMore #YZF #NWT Yellowknife "Northwest Territories"

    Video of the Global Day of Action rally in downtown Somba K’e (Yellowknife)on the Akaitcho territory of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation in Denendeh (Northwest Territories).

  • #IdleNoMore March and Round Dance in Yellowknife Denendeh NWT

    "Today (Friday, December 21, 2012) in Denendeh and across the globe, we made an impact, a statement for true justice to be brought forward and acknowledged. But it will not stop, for the 8th fire has been lit and will only grow. Mahsi for all who showed up and united, we felt the support....we felt the fire!! And there's more to come in the new year." On Facebook By Lawrence Nayally, Melaw Nakehk'o and Eugene Boulanger https://www.facebook.com/events/112403725595655/

  • Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, wearing a headdress, takes part in a drum ceremony before departing a Ottawa hotel to attend a ceremonial meeting at Rideau Hall with Gov. Gen. David Johnston in Ottawa, Friday January 11, 2013.

  • Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, centre, departs a Ottawa hotel to attend a ceremonial meeting at Rideau Hall with Gov. Gen. David Johnston in Ottawa, Friday January 11, 2013.

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with First Nations leaders in Ottawa on January 11, 2013.

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with First Nations leaders in Ottawa on January 11, 2013.

  • Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence makes a brief statement on Victoria Island near Parliament Hill Friday January 11, 2013 in Ottawa. Spence is speaking out for the first time about how her reserve spends government money, saying most of what flows to her isolated James Bay reserve actually gets spent outside the community.

  • Aboriginal Chiefs stand at the main gate to Parliament Hill during a protest Friday January 11, 2013 in Ottawa.

  • Idle No More protesters listen to speakers during a rally on Parliament Hill Friday January 11, 2013 in Ottawa.

  • Gordie Odjig of Wikwemikong stands at the west gate to the Langevin Block during the aboriginal meeting in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Idle No More at UBC Vancouver

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Randall_Gray"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/100001602753648/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Randall_Gray">Randall Gray</a>:<br />

  • Idle No More at UBC Vancouver

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Randall_Gray"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/100001602753648/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Randall_Gray">Randall Gray</a>:<br />

  • Los Angeles Rally In Solidarity with First nations

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/hp_blogger_Melinda Gopher"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/contributors/melinda-gopher/headshot.jpg" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/hp_blogger_Melinda Gopher">HuffPost Blogger Melinda Gopher</a>:<br />Brock Conway, Blackfeet activist, with Saulteaux Actor Adam Beach and companion. Photo: Morning Star Gopher

  • Native protesters march up Wellington Street in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Four-year-old Phoenix Sky Cottrelle,from Aamjiwnaang First Nation, holds a sign as aboriginal protestors gather on Victoria Island before they march to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Aboriginal protestors hold signs as they march from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Gordie Odjig, an aboriginal protestor from Wikwemikong, shouts as he marches from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Woman's Voices

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/4441016.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop">Courtney Harrop</a>:<br />Idle No More event Dec 30th,2012. Tla'Amin Nation Coast Salish Territories Powell River, British Columbia.

  • Idle No More Edmonton

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AUPELOCAL6CHAIR"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/4411530.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AUPELOCAL6CHAIR">AUPELOCAL6CHAIR</a>:<br />Planned overnight and what a turn out!

  • IdleNoMore March, Dauphin, Mb

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Phyllis_Racette"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1354341984/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Phyllis_Racette">Phyllis Racette</a>:<br />#IdleNoMOre Dauphin, Mb

  • Chicago Idle No More @ the Canadian Consulate

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Jolene_Aleck"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/644015258/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Jolene_Aleck">Jolene Aleck</a>:<br />Chicago's Idle No More 1.5.2012 rally @ the Canadian Consulate

  • VancouverC Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • A man waves a flags as aboriginal protesters and supporters in the Idle No More movement block the Blue Water Bridge border crossing to the United States in Sarnia, Ont. on Saturday, January 5, 2013.

  • VancouverA Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • VancouverB Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • VancouverD Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • VancouverH Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC, January 2, 2013.

  • VancouverF Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • VancouverE Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • VancouverG Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • Flag Planting

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/seawaytoday"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/seawaytoday">seawaytoday</a>:<br />Akwesasne Idle No More att Cornwall, ON

  • Dec 21st 2012 Idle No More Ottawa: Berdine

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Gail_Chicky_Gallagher"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/535670179/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Gail_Chicky_Gallagher">Gail Chicky Gallagher</a>:<br />