OTTAWA - Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl praised the new national leader of aboriginals in Canada as a gifted speaker with a motivational story.

Strahl said Shawn Atleo, elected last week as chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is the face of a new generation of aboriginal leadership in this country.

"I think Mr. Atleo is an extraordinary man," Strahl said. "He really represents, I think, a next generation of leadership in the country."

Strahl said he's worked with Atleo before, and for a time he even went to the same university as the 42-year-old businessman from British Columbia.

"He's articulated a real passion for education, for the rights of aboriginal people. He's a great public speaker, very motivational, and obviously has a lot of political skills as well to win those important votes after that long convention," Strahl said.

Atleo was picked as chief of the Assembly of First Nations after a marathon election that saw eight rounds of voting over 23 hours.

Atleo replaced Phil Fontaine, who did not seek re-election after three terms as the assembly's leader.

Atleo, who is from the Ahousaht First Nation on Vancouver Island, has a background in education. He holds a master's degree in adult learning and global change and was named the first chancellor of Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, B.C.

He at one time was the executive director of a First Nations family addictions treatment facility.

Atleo promised to make youth an important part of his agenda. He said too many native young people are in care, are unemployed and don't have enough proper education.

In his new role Atleo will deal with Strahl when it comes to aboriginal negotiations with the federal government.

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