Manitoba chiefs call for new meeting with Harper and Governor General
Published Friday, January 18, 2013 1:56PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, January 19, 2013 10:56PM EST
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is renewing calls for a meeting between First Nations leaders, the prime minister and Governor General to discuss aboriginal treaty rights.
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said Friday that the Assembly of First Nations has approved a resolution urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston to sit down together with chiefs on Jan. 24.
“We’re calling on the prime minister to meet with us…on our terms,” Nepinak told a news conference in Ottawa. “We will not bow down to prescriptive and predetermined agendas.”
Harper met with aboriginal leaders, including AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo, last Friday as northern Ontario’s Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence pressed on with her liquids-only diet and Idle No More demonstrations intensified.
Harper agreed to meet with Atleo for “high level” talks after that meeting, but Spence and a number of other chiefs were upset that the prime minister and Johnston did not face aboriginal leaders together, as requested.
Johnston held a separate, “ceremonial” meeting with a group of chiefs later that day, which Spence decided to attend at the last minute.
Spence and others have insisted that the Governor General must be present for talks on treaty rights because he represents the Crown.
Even though Atleo has taken some time off to recover from a norovirus infection and exhaustion, the chiefs will keep pushing for a meeting with Harper and Johnston, Nepinak said Friday.
He also addressed reports of infighting among Frist Nations leaders on how to best advance the Idle No More movement, which demands action from the federal government to improve the plight of Canada’s aboriginal people.
“We have seen over the last number of days, over the last week, an ongoing attempt to demonstrate that there is a rift that has occurred within the Assembly of First Nations,” Nepinak said. “In the absence of the national chief, it’s very important that we maintain the unity that we believe does exist across the land, from coast to coast to coast – amongst indigenous people.”
Nepinak said Canada’s diverse aboriginal groups and their communities may have different approaches to voicing their concerns, but “one thing is for certain: indigenous people across the land know what’s wrong.”
Nepinak said the Manitoba chiefs “take exception” to being labelled as dissidents. He said they stand with Spence and some of them visited her in her teepee in Ottawa on Friday to show their support and express concern for her health.
Spence has been on a liquids-only hunger protest since Dec. 11, demanding a face-to-face meeting with Harper and Johnston to address poverty, inequality and other issues facing First Nations communities.
Grand Chief Murray Clearsky, of the Manitoba Southern Chiefs Organization, said he urged Spence to reconsider her strike and “think of her children.”
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