10/30/2014 03:02 EDT | Updated 12/30/2014 05:59 EST

Shawn Atleo appointed to lead new round of talks with B.C. First Nations

Former Assembly of First Nations national chief Shawn Atleo has been named to head B.C.'s first Shqwi qwal for Indigenous Dialogue.

The announcement was made by B.C. Premier Christy Clark on Thursday at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, where the new office will be based.

Shqwi qwal means speaker in the Hulquminum language, and as its head Atleo will be expected to facilitate dialogue between B.C.'s First Nations, government and industry.

"The Shqwi qwal will develop and support dialogue sessions on education and other topics that will help foster understanding and partnerships between indigenous peoples and the broader public, private, and corporate sectors," said a statement released by the premier's office.

"Recognition and understanding are fundamental to moving forward in the spirit of mutual respect, reconciliation and sharing," said Atleo in the statement.

"Through dialogue, we can together create new paths respective of our history that connect systems and support process innovation for social and economic benefits for First Nations, for British Columbia, and for Canada."

First Nations' influence rising

The appointment comes at a time when First Nations have considerable power to derail several high-profile energy projects in B.C., including the Northern Gateway pipeline.

It also follows the first-ever cabinet meeting with B.C.'s First Nations leaders that was held in September, and a recent Supreme Court ruling upholding First Nations land titles.

"We want to be true partners with aboriginal people and that will only be possible by listening to each other," said Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad.

"This new position builds on our recent meeting with First Nations leaders as we support new approaches to reconciliation and improvements for aboriginal people and First Nations communities."

The Shqwi qwal office will be housed within the university's new Centre for Pre-Confederation Treaties and Reconciliation, which is led by former chief of the Snuneymuxw First Nation Doug White.

Atleo was elected twice as head of the Assembly of First Nations in 2009 and 2012. Before that he served two terms as the regional chief of the B.C. AFN.

He also holds a master's of education in adult learning and global change from the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, and is the first indigenous person to hold the position of university chancellor in British Columbia.