First Nations leaders rally around Attawapiskat chief
Published Saturday, January 12, 2013 10:33AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, January 12, 2013 10:10PM EST
First Nations leaders rallied around Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence Saturday as she continued her hunger strike amid threats of ramped up Idle No More protests in the coming days.
Supporters spent Saturday visiting her compound on Victoria Island, in the shadows of Parliament Hill, where she has spent the past few weeks on a liquids-only diet in the hopes of securing a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston.
Harper had met Friday with a coalition of chiefs with the Assembly of First Nations – including AFN Chief Shawn Atleo -- in a meeting that generated a deep divide among aboriginal leaders. Spence, however, did not attend because her demand that Johnston also be at the meeting was not met.
While Spence boycotted the working session, she did attend a ceremonial meeting held at Rideau Hall Friday evening – an event the northern Ontario chief had earlier said she would skip.
While a number of federal and aboriginal leaders have urged Spence to end her fast, her spokesperson said Friday evening that the chief will continue to forgo solid food.
After Friday’s meeting, federal officials promised to hold ongoing talks with First Nations chiefs to resolve land claims and treaty issues. But at least one Ontario chief has threatened a wide-spread transportation blockade in the province on Jan. 16 unless a joint meeting with both Harper and Johnston occurs.
First Nations would move to "stop roads, rails, transportation of goods," Grand Chief Gordon Peter told reporters Friday, without providing further details of what such a protest would look like. "We just have to walk out on our land and stop it."
Northern Superior Regional Grand Chief Peter Collins told CTV News Channel on Saturday that as protests continue, demonstrators may begin taking more “direct action,” such as blocking highways and railroads and stopping mining activities.
“As leaders we can only support our grassroots people and the initiatives they have put forward in Idle No More,” he said.
While thousands of protesters took to the streets across Canada throughout the week, Saturday marked a quiet day for the Idle No More movement, although solidarity rallies were planned in British Columbia.
Collins said that the demonstrations are not only to show support to Spence, but also to condemn “inaction” by the federal government. “It’s all about legislation being imposed on our communities and having an impact on our community.”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said Friday’s discussion produced a “good, frank dialogue,” but added that there remains much work to be done to address treaty issues, along with health, education and economic concerns brought forward by First Nations leaders.
“I think we achieved quite a bit today,” Duncan said after Friday’s working session. He admitted that he didn’t know whether the talks, which lasted for more than four hours, would stop Idle No More protests across the country.
Chiefs from Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories boycotted the hard-fought working session with Harper to stand in solidarity with Spence.
Meanwhile, as federal officials and AFN leaders met in the Prime Minister’s Office, an estimated 3,000 protesters descended on Parliament Hill in a peaceful demonstration.
On Friday evening, another 3,000 Idle No More protesters took to the streets of Toronto, insisting that aboriginal land and water rights have been taken away by the government.
A blockade of a Canadian National rail line in Nova Scotia lasted well into Friday night after 20 members of the Millbrook First Nation placed wooden pallets and a car on the tracks.