National Chief calls for meeting with Harper, Johnston
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo speaks at the opening ceremony for the Special Chiefs Assembly, Tuesday, December 4, 2012, in Gatineau, Que. (Adrian Wyld/ THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Monday, December 17, 2012 3:42PM EST
Aboriginal leaders are calling for an urgent meeting with Governor General David Johnston and Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a hunger strike protesting the condition of First Nations communities moves into its second week.
In an open letter released Sunday, Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo asked Johnston and Harper for an immediate commitment to a meeting.
Attawapiskat Chief Teresa Spence began a hunger strike on Dec. 10 in order to protest what she sees as the shameful treatment of aboriginal people by the federal government. She has said she won’t eat until a meeting is granted.
“This situation creates an urgency that is foremost in our minds and is a direct correlation to the humanitarian crises being faced in many First Nations communities today,” Atleo wrote in the letter.
Atleo also said the government has not upheld its treaty commitments to First Nations people.
The letter comes as First Nations activists are gearing up for a week of rallies as part of a growing grassroots movement known as Idle No More. The movement has drawn together communities across the country thanks to a powerful presence online.
Events across the country — from Halifax to Red Deer, Alta., — are detailed on the group's website and on Facebook. After a round of protests on Dec. 10, more events are planned for this week, culminating in a rally on Parliament Hill on Friday.
Jan O'Driscoll, a spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, said the department has made efforts to consult with aboriginal leaders. He said they continue work on pressing issues on reserves like education, clean drinking water and housing.
"While we've made significant strides, there is still work to be done," O'Driscoll said in an email.
"We'll continue to partner with First Nations to create the conditions for healthier, more self-sufficient communities."
O'Driscoll said Duncan has also tried to reach out to Spence. Attawapiskat is the same reserve that made international news last year for its poor housing conditions.
- With files from the Canadian Press