Shawn Atleo has abruptly resigned as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
Atleo told a hastily assembled news conference Friday in Ottawa that he does not want to be a distraction in the ongoing — and intensifying — debate over the federal government's proposed changes to First Nations education.
"This work is too important, and I'm not prepared to be an obstacle to it or a lightning rod distracting from the kids and their potential," Atleo said.
"I am therefore today resigning as national chief."
Some First Nations groups have been critical of Atleo for supporting a Conservative government bill aimed at reforming aboriginal education.
They say if passed, the legislation would strip away their rights and give the federal government too much control over the education of their children.
But the work must continue, Atleo said.
"I challenge every party and every First Nation to carry this work forward. Failure is simply not an option," he said.
"Fighting for the status quo is simply not acceptable."
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt has defended Bill C-33, the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, saying it meets the five conditions outlined by the Assembly of First Nations and chiefs during a meeting in December.
It was not immediately clear Friday who would replace Atleo as national chief.