NANAIMO — Shawn Atleo has listened to grandmothers in the Arctic, heard the concerns of youth in his home village of Ahousaht on the Island’s west coast and felt Ottawa’s cold winters and its harsh politics, making him ideal for the new British Columbia position of Shqwi qwal.
A Shqwi qwal, pronounced she-qwall, is a West Coast aboriginal name given to a community leader who helps build new paths and relations.
Premier Christy Clark said that there is no better-qualified aboriginal communicator in Canada, as she appointed Atleo as Canada’s first Shqwi qwal at a ceremony at Vancouver Island University on Thursday.
The former Assembly of First Nations national chief said B.C. must engage in deep discussions between its aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples.
Atleo, who plans academic and community meetings between aboriginals, non-aboriginals, government and industry representatives, described the Shqwi qwal as the person who ensures everyone has their say when the community meets in the village longhouse.
Atleo and Clark said B.C. aboriginals and non-aboriginals face issues that require understanding of each other to drive economic and social prosperity.
“We need to hear each others’ stories. We need to acknowledge each others’ struggles,” said Clark, citing the recent apology in the legislature for the hanging of six Tsilhqot’in chiefs 150 years ago and the current agenda to develop a liquefied natural gas industry.