Chief Spence out of hospital after ending 6-week hunger strike
Published Thursday, January 24, 2013 8:46AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 24, 2013 11:17PM EST
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence left an Ottawa hospital Thursday and, within an hour of her release, had signed a declaration of commitment to address First Nations treaty rights that effectively ends her six-week hunger protest.
Spence had spent the night under medical observation after consuming only liquids for 44 days. She missed a Thursday morning news conference announcing the end of her fast, but turned up at a downtown Ottawa hotel several hours later to sign the 13-point declaration and address her supporters.
“Always remember that we’re here together and here for our people…especially our youth,” Spence told the cheering crowd.
Spence had been subsisting on fish broth and medicinal teas since Dec. 11, vowing to continue her fast until her demand for a joint meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston was met.
But she agreed to end her protest Wednesday after other chiefs and federal opposition parties vowed to take up her cause.
The declaration of commitment Spence signed in front of flashing cameras vows to seek immediate improvements to native housing and education, a meeting with Harper and Johnston, and full treaty implementation within five years.
"We fully commit to carry forward the urgent and co-ordinated action required until concrete and tangible results are achieved in order to allow First Nations to forge their own destiny," the declaration states.
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae -- who is prepared to sign the declaration -- said Thursday he stands in solidarity with Spence and all others who share her struggle.
"Everyone needs to join this struggle because it is a struggle for our true identity as a country. The reconciliation between those who have been here for thousands of years and those who have come more recently is unfinished business ... and therefore everyone needs to join in this struggle," Rae said.
"It is everyone's struggle, but no one should die. No one in this country should have to risk their life or their health for their political beliefs or their spiritual beliefs."
Spence, whose troubled Attawapiskat reserve is located near James Bayin northern Ontario, is demanding a new relationship between First Nations and the federal government. She also wants the federal government to honour historic treaty agreements.
Harper agreed earlier this month to a meeting with Spence and other Assembly of First Nations leaders in Ottawa. However, Johnston said his role isn't a political one and it wasn't appropriate for him to attend. Instead, the vice-regal offered to meet with leaders for a ceremonial gathering.
As a result, Spence and a number of other chiefs boycotted the meeting with Harper, creating a division with AFN Chief Shawn Atleo, who attended and helped organize the meeting.
That division appeared to be narrowing on Thursday. Chief Perry Bellegarde, a regional leader with the AFN, said the group intended to sign the declaration.
Atleo returned to work Thursday after a brief, doctor-ordered sick leave and told media in Vancouver the AFN will continue to “relentlessly pursue” the recognition of First Nations rights and “commitments from the highest levels of government”
“The moment we have found ourselves in at this juncture in our history, I think about the challenges that we face,” he said.
Atleo credited the Idle No More Movement for brining widespread attention to the long-standing struggles of Canada’s First Nations.
“Now, what we’ve been seeking for so long began to pierce the consciousness of this country,” he said.