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Spence still forgoes solid foods, wants meeting with PM and GG
Fasting Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence remains steadfast in her commitment to forgo solid foods, despite federal officials agreeing to work with aboriginal leaders to resolve land claims and treaty issues.
In an exclusive interview with CTV’s Question Period, Spence said she will continue to hold out for a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Gov.-Gen. David Johnston and First Nations leaders before agreeing to end the fast.
“There’s a crisis in our communities, which the government has known about for so many years,” Spence said Sunday. “If you experience what we live, as a person, as a woman and as a mother, you would do anything to protect your children and to make your children and other people’s children have better living conditions.”
Spence has been on a liquids-only diet since Dec. 11 in an effort to draw attention to the living conditions on some of Canada’s remote reserves, and to spur government action. The chief has staged her protest while living in a teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa.
Following mounting pressure, Harper agreed to meet with the Assembly of First Nations leaders on Jan. 11. The working session aimed to address a number of indigenous concerns, including the resolution of land claims and giving First Nations a “fair share” of resource development revenues.
Spence, however, boycotted the meeting as it did not include Johnston. A number of chiefs stood in solidarity with Spence and didn’t partake in the session.
As the Queen’s representative in Canada, Johnston’s position is primarily seen as a ceremonial one. However, Spence stressed that the Governor General is vital to any discussion regarding treaty issues.
“We (see) his role in a different way,” she said. “When this treaty was signed, it was with the Crown. It’s important for the treaty partners to be in that meeting.”
Almost a month into her hunger strike, Spence came under fire after an audit of the Attawapiskat reserve found significant documentation lacking for $104 million transferred to the band between 2005 and 2011.
Spence said Sunday she was disappointed when the media brought the audit to light in early January.
“We heard the recommendations from the audit (that) explained where the lack was and what needs to be improved,” she said. “It’s good to see where we need to improve and we’ll comply with the recommendation.”
Spence said at the time she was promised by federal officials that the audit wouldn’t be used “against” the northern Ontario reserve.
“This is why I was really disappointed to see it in the media,” she said.
Spence’s fast coincides with the Idle No More movement, which was sparked by the government’s omnibus budget bill.
Spence said she has lost 30 pounds since launching the liquids-only diet.
“There’s always criticism,” said Spence. “But you have to see it to believe it, so come and visit me, talk to me. You’ll see what I’m going through.”