12/10/2013 03:12 EST | Updated 02/09/2014 05:59 EST

Shawn Atleo urges chiefs to draw from Mandela's legacy of reconciliation

Inspired by Nelson Mandela's legacy, the National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo delivered a message of reconciliation in his opening remarks to a group of First Nations leaders gathered in Gatineau, Que., Tuesday morning.

Atleo, is currently in South Africa, where he is representing First Nations as part of the Canadian delegation that attended Mandela's memorial service.

"We lost an incredible, courageous, and inspirational indigenous hero last week, Madiba as he was known to his peoples," Atleo said in video message recorded before his departure to Johannesburg.

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"The connection to all indigenous people is critical and it is important to pay our deepest respects to a man that not only lifted the oppressive chains of apartheid from his people, but also helped a nation come together with their painful past and find a place of reconciliation.

"Indeed he showed the world not only why reconciliation was essential, but how it can be achieved," Atleo said.

'Progress' on education reform

First Nations leaders are gathering for a bi-annual special assembly of chiefs from Dec.10-12 in Gatineau to address the priorities facing their communities, including the government's controversial proposed First Nations education reform.

While their leaders met, First Nations protesters marched from Victoria island to Parliament Hill in support of the Idle No More movement.

The national chief, in his video message, called on all First Nations to come together to bring about the change they want to see in their communities.

"Division allows governments to ignore us. The elders remind us that the colonizer loves nothing more than when we fight amongst ourselves.

Atleo also told the leaders, in his video message, that the real enemy is "the status quo."

"There are always reasons to say no. We can always criticize any new approach or initiative whether it’s by the government or by us. But that’s not enough. That’s only half the job," Atleo said.

On the issue of First Nations education reform, Atleo said there's been some progress since the AFN made clear its demands of the federal government. 

"We are calling for First Nations control of First Nations education in systems that meaningfully recognize our languages and cultures supported by stable, sustainable and fair funding.

"We’re making progress and continue to press ahead," Atleo said in his message to the chiefs.

In an open letter on Nov. 25 to Bernard Valcourt, the minister of aboriginal affairs, the national chief said "the current federal proposal for a bill for First Nation education is not acceptable to First Nations."

Consultations over a First Nations education draft legislative proposal continue.

The federal government hopes to have new legislation in place by the fall of 2014.

You can watch Atleo's speech here: