Attawapiskat chief to end hunger strike
Published Wednesday, January 23, 2013 6:24AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 23, 2013 9:07PM EST
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence will end her hunger strike, a spokesperson said Wednesday, after six weeks of forgoing solid foods.
Spence’s spokesperson, Danny Metatawabin, said First Nations leaders and opposition MPs signed a 13-point declaration that contains demands to be addressed in future meetings with the federal government.
The resolution includes a pledge by signatories to carry on her work.
“We fully commit to carry forward the urgent and coordinated action required until concrete and tangible results are achieved in order to allow First Nations to forge their own destiny,” the declaration reads.
“Therefore, we solemnly commit to undertake political, spiritual and all other advocacy efforts to implement a renewed First Nations-Crown relationship where inherent Treaty and non-Treaty Rights are recognized, honoured and fully implemented as they should be, within the next five years.”
In addition to demanding a meeting that includes Gov.-Gen. David Johnston, the declaration calls for better housing and education on reserves, a review of the environmental regulation changes contained in the government’s omnibus budget bills, and a commitment to share revenues from natural resources extracted “from traditional lands.”
CP reported that an “informal delegation” had been working with Spence to end her hunger strike and help shape the declaration: a group that included interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, NDP aboriginal affairs critic Romeo Saganash and northern Ontario deputy grand chief Alvin Fiddler.
Reports emerged earlier Wednesday that Spence and other First Nations leaders would mark the end of her hunger strike at an “honouring ceremony” in Ottawa on Thursday, CTV’s Roger Smith reported. A press conference has been scheduled for 11 a.m. in Ottawa.
Spence began a liquids-only diet of fish broth and tea on Dec. 11, and had been living in a teepee on Victoria Island, near Parliament Hill, ever since.
Spence had demanded that Ottawa address aboriginal treaty rights and problems plaguing First Nations communities. She also demanded a face-to-face meeting with both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Johnston, arguing it was the Crown that negotiated historic treaties with aboriginal Canadians.
On Sunday, Spence declared she was committed to forgoing solid foods, despite a pledge by federal officials to continue to meet with First Nations leaders to discuss issues of concern. At the time, she said she would continue her liquids-only diet until her demand to meet with both Harper and Johnston was met.
Spence’s protest was one facet of the Idle No More movement, during which aboriginal Canadians have engaged in demonstrations across the country ranging from marches and rallies to disruptions of road and railway traffic.
Under increasing pressure, Harper agreed to a Jan. 11 meeting with First Nations leaders and other government officials. Spence boycotted that meeting, as did a number of other chiefs, as Johnston was not in attendance, as demanded. Assembly of First Nations Chief Sean Atleo did attend, however, opening up a rift among aboriginal leaders.
Jane Dickson-Gilmore, an aboriginal studies expert at Carlton University in Ottawa, said Spence’s hunger strike has been an effective tool for not only attracting attention to the plight of aboriginal Canadians, but also for convincing Harper to agree to a meeting.
“Stephen Harper is at a very delicate point in the history of aboriginal-Crown relations in this country,” Dickson-Gilmore told CTV’s Power Play. “It makes no sense for him to step back and step out of this dialogue. It’s a conversation that is much broader than it has ever been, and he needs to step forward and say, ‘let’s talk about what’s in this declaration, let’s try to make some of it meaningful.’”
The news from Spence’s camp follows word that Atleo will return to work by the end of the week after a bout of exhaustion brought on by the norovirus. Atleo went on a brief medical leave following the meeting with Harper, which led to criticism from other chiefs that he did not take a hard enough stand with the prime minister. Others suggested that he, like Spence, should have boycotted the meeting.
In a statement issued Monday, Atleo said First Nations have reached “a critical point in our history,” as the Idle No More movement continues to shed light on the plight of aboriginal Canadians.
He said the AFN will continue to “maintain this pressure” on the government “as it presents the greatest opportunity to make real progress for all of our peoples.”
“It is important that we remain united behind these demands, the agenda adopted by our peoples in one Assembly after another,” he said.