Chief on hunger strike wants meeting with Harper 'as soon as possible'
Published Thursday, January 3, 2013 11:29AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 4, 2013 7:23AM EST
An attempt by First Nations leaders to arrange a Jan. 24 meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper was rejected Thursday by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who said she is too weak from her hunger strike to wait that long.
Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo had issued an “urgent invitation” to Harper and Gov. Gen David Johnston to join the meeting as Spence entered the 24th day of her protest.
But even before Atleo met Spence in her tent on Victoria Island, not far from Parliament Hill, her spokesperson shot the plan down.
“The 24th is too far away,” said Danny Metatawabin. “She wants a meeting to be held as soon as possible before the 24th.”
Other First Nations chiefs say Spence has reinstated her original demand -- a personal meeting with Harper.
“What she’s saying is there is an urgency to this,” Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Stan Louttit said. “Lives are on the line. So let’s meet in the very near future within the next few days.”
Spence’s supporters say she has been only consuming fish broth and medicinal teas since launching her hunger strike on Dec. 11. She has been huddling in a tent on the frozen Ottawa River ever since.
Driftpile First Nation ChiefChief Rose Laboucan said Spence is willing to die unless Harper meets with her.
“And you know what? She’s willing to go all the way and that’s the sad part,” she said.
After emerging from Spence’s tent Thursday evening, Atleo would only say that he was “appreciative of another opportunity” to speak to her and was “inspired by her resolve.”
Atleo said the prime minister has not responded to his invitation to the meeting on Jan. 24 – the one-year anniversary of Harper’s summit with First Nations chiefs.
Harper’s director of communications, Andrew MacDougall, briefly addressed the issue on Twitter, writing: “The government remains willing to work with First Nation leadership to deliver better outcomes for FN communities.”
“We will reply to Chief Atleo in due course,” he added.
Spence -- whose First Nations community is located in Northern Ontario -- has vowed not to eat until Harper agrees to meet with her and other aboriginal leaders to discuss the plight of First Nations communities.She has refused offers to meet with Minster of Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan.
On Friday, Atleo will join MP Charlie Angus, who represents the area that includes Attawapiskat, at an Ottawa press conference to discuss Spence’s protest. Grand Chief Stan Louttit, Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, NDP MPP Gilles Bisson and someone representing Spence will also be present at the news conference.
Spence's hunger strike has helped call attention to the broader Idle No More movement, which has seen First Nations groups across the country and elsewhere hold flash mobs, demonstrations, and road and rail blockades as part of efforts to build a new relationship between the federal government and First Nations groups – in particular the recognition of historic treaty agreements.
Atleo said the ongoing demonstrations represent a "tremendous outpouring of energy, pride and determination" by aboriginal peoples, which is essential to enacting large-scale change.
First Nations leaders are largely concerned with Bill C-45, which they claim eliminates treaty and aboriginal rights set out in the Constitution.
"There is no excuse for inaction, either by First Nation leadership or by Canada," Atleo said in a statement issued earlier Thursday. "First Nations are ready to do the hard work to address our many challenges and achieve a better future for our children. We must see concrete commitment and action.
"It's time for the Crown to honour its relationship and responsibilities to First Nations starting with the recognition and affirmation of our inherent and Treaty rights. It's time for all First Nations citizens and their leaders to drive solutions."
Some chiefs have proposed launching indefinite economic disruptions on Jan. 16 if Harper refuses to participate in the meeting demanded by Spence. In a statement Wednesday, Spence said First Nations leaders were planning on stepping up their civil action to include "countrywide economic disturbances."
With a report from CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife and files from Andy Johnson
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