After Spence meets with Trudeau, minister reissues plea to end hunger strike
Published Wednesday, December 26, 2012 12:44PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 26, 2012 10:57PM EST
Now that Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has met with Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, the federal government is urging her again to end her two-week hunger strike and meet with Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan.
News of Wednesday’s meeting broke on Trudeau's Twitter feed, where the Liberal leadership candidate tweeted a photo and this: "It was deeply moving to meet @ChiefTheresa today. She is willing to sacrifice everything for her people. She shouldn’t have to. #IdleNoMore"
Spence, who considers herself leader of a sovereign nation and has been insisting on a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston, had earlier rejected possible meetings with Duncan and Senator Patrick Brazeau, who is Algonquin.
Duncan sent a letter late Wednesday to Spence, saying in part: "It is my understanding that you met today with a Member of Parliament. Given your willingness to accept meetings now I am hoping that you will reconsider my offer, as a Minister of the Crown, to meet or speak with you by phone to discuss the issues you have raised publicly."
Earlier Wednesday, NDP MP Charlie Angus. whose Timmins-James Bay riding includes Attawakpiskat, dismissed concerns from some government officials that Harper would be setting a precedent by meeting with Spence, which would then spark similar protests across the country.
Instead, Angus said, Harper is setting a “terrible precedent” by refusing to meet with her.
Duncan first proposed on Tuesday to arrange a meeting with a working group to discuss improving the relationship between First Nations and the federal government.
Spence launched her hunger strike on Dec. 11 in an effort to bring attention to aboriginal rights.
She has since been living in a teepee on an island in the Ottawa River, and has demanded a meeting with Harper, the governor general and First Nations leaders to discuss First Nations rights and treaties.
Her actions have helped spark the national “Idle No More” movement among First Nations in Canada, with several protests and rallies being launched across the country.
At the heart of the Idle No More movement is the recently-passed Bill C-45, the omnibus budget bill, that movement organizers say will speed-up the process for aboriginals to surrender their reserve lands.
Activists are also protesting the new law because it includes clauses they say will cut the number of federally-protected waterways, jeopardizing the lands they rely on.
First Nations groups say the legislation was passed without sufficient consultation and that the government is preparing to remove power from band councils.
A group of First Nations protestors have launched a rail blockade in Sarnia, Ont., to protest the bill.
The blockade, launched by the Aamjiwnaang First Nation and their supporters, closes rail access to several chemical plants. It continued on Boxing Day.
The group says it will not leave until Harper meets with Spence.
A court injunction has been issued to end the blockade, but Sarnia’s mayor has said that so long as the demonstration is peaceful, police won’t interfere.
Meanwhile, members of First Nations groups near Sault Ste. Marie in northern Ontario have posted a message on Facebook indicating they are planning to launch a rail blockade on Thursday.