NDP leader calls on Attawapiskat chief to end hunger strike
Published Sunday, January 13, 2013 1:52PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, January 13, 2013 10:30PM EST
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is calling on Chief Theresa Spence to end her hunger strike, saying progress has been made towards respecting First Nations treaty rights and the focus should now be on pressuring the government to act.
“I would sincerely call upon Chief Spence to realize that there has been a step in the right direction, to try and see now if we can keep putting pressure on the government to follow through,” Mulcair said during an interview with CTV’s Question Period.
“The government seems to be moving so I think that the best thing to do would be to step back from that now.”
The Opposition leader said he believes that after Friday’s meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations leaders, a process for improving and enforcing First Nations treaty rights is in place and it should be recognized.
“There have been a lot of broken promises,” he said. “We can understand the frustration. But I think we show a lot of respect for the chiefs who were there negotiating and working hard on Friday, when we acknowledge that there has been movement. I think we should be supportive of them.”
However, the NDP leader said that while he believes the government has started “to get the message,” there is a danger if it fails to deliver on its promises.
Mulcair said the January 2012 Crown-First Nations Gathering – a similar high-level meeting between the Assembly of First Nations and the government – is a recent example of how the government promised action but “nothing happened.”
“If this becomes another broken promise then we’re really going to see a strong reaction from First Nations, and it’s going to be an understandable strong reaction,” he said.
Moving forward, the government should approach issues affecting First Nations communities with a nation-to-nation approach, Mulcair said.
Mulcair said that the government must respect First Nations rights and consult with them when trying to pursue large development projects that threaten environmental resources which First Nations communities have rights to, such as the Northern Gateway Pipeline.
“There’s a process. You can’t go from top down on these big development issues in 2013. You have to include the grassroots and that’s what we’re hearing from now,” he said.
“There is a strong grass roots movement and we ignore that at our own risk and peril.”
But Conservative MP and parliamentary secretary for the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Greg Rickford told CTV’s Question Period that while the government respects the right to peaceful protest, it expects that all protests -- including the ongoing Idle No More rallies -- stay within legal boundaries.
“We’re hopeful in these regards that none of this activity will put Canadians in jeopardy. And obviously there will be an expectation that law enforcement will step in and ensure safety and the rule of law,” Rickford said.
In response to AFN Chief Shawn Atleo’s calls for abandoning the Indian Act on Friday, Rickford said the government will continue to amend more archaic parts of the act, and make it a more flexible governing tool for First Nations.
“The challenge moving forward has been to create the kind of legislation that gets communities in and out from underneath parts of it,” Rickford said.
He gave the example of changes to the First Nations Lands Management Act, which were introduced Friday.
The changes exempt First Nations from one-third of the provisions of the Indian Act, address self-governance and provide new tools for economic development, he said.
Rickford stressed that the government remains focused on improving economic conditions for First Nations communities.