Hunger-striking chief holds out for meeting with PM
Published Friday, December 28, 2012 12:32PM EST
Last Updated Friday, December 28, 2012 11:09PM EST
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who is on her third week of a hunger strike, says she refused a meeting with Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan because he doesn’t represent Canada in “nation to nation” discussions.
Spence is protesting Canada’s treatment of its First Nations and is demanding that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the governor general meet with a group of First Nations leaders before she ends her strike.
In addition to declining to meet with Duncan, she has refused a meeting with Conservative Sen. Patrick Brazeau, an Algonquin who often speaks for the government on Aboriginal issues.
“Our treaties were entered into with the Crown,” states a news release issued by Spence’s supporters on Friday, the 17th day of her protest. “Canada continues to bring dishonour by not recognizing and implementing our constitutionally-protected Inherent and Treaty Rights.”
Spence has spent her hunger strike camped out on an island in the Ottawa River that is considered traditional Anishinabe land, a short distance from the Parliament Buildings. She has entertained many supporters and guests, including Liberal MP Justin Trudeau on Wednesday.
On Friday, she was scheduled to meet with NDP MP Charlie Angus, who said he supports her insistence on a meeting with the Prime Minister.
“The prime minister just has to say he’s willing to meet with the national (First Nations) leadership,” Angus told CTV News Channel on Friday. “That should be something that prime ministers do.”
Angus’ northern Ontario riding includes Attawapiskat, which has been in the spotlight for the past year after images of its deplorable living conditions surfaced in the media.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq is calling on Spence to end her hunger strike and accept the government’s proposed meeting, saying Duncan is the person responsible for the portfolio and the best candidate.
"I would encourage her to stop and meet with Minister Duncan,” Aglukkaq, who is Inuit, told reporters Friday. “That's the best way to address her issues.”
Aglukkaq also pointed out that the government held a meeting with 800 chiefs earlier this year, which the Prime Minister attended.
Recently, Spence has become the face of the growing Idle No More movement, which has rallied Indigenous people and their supporters against sections of the federal budget bill that attack the environment and First Nations treaty rights. In Saturday’s release, Spence’s supporters accused Canada of failing to meet its domestic and international legal obligations in the following areas:
- addressing violence against Indigenous women
- extracting natural resources from Indigenous lands
- high rates of incarceration of Indigenous peoples
- protection of Indigenous peoples’ economic, social and cultural rights
- implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Angus says that the Idle No More movement is continuously gaining support because many First Nations people feel like they’re being ignored by the government. He says meeting with the national Aboriginal leadership would be a great way for Harper to start changing that perception.
“There’s no sign of weakness in being willing to talk,” he said. “There’s a lot of frustration at the grassroots level. They feel they’re falling further and further behind.”
With files from The Canadian Press