UPDATE: Chief says she’ll continue hunger strike until PM and native leaders meet

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Harper to meet First Nations leaders next Friday to talk rights and development

Prime Minister Stephen Harper. — Canadian Press file photo

Stephanie Levitz

The Canadian Press — Ottawa

Chief Theresa Spence expressed joy Friday at news that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has agreed to meet First Nations leaders, but said she won’t end her hunger strike until the meeting actually takes place next Friday.

“I’m just really overjoyed to hear that the Crown, the prime minister and the government, that they’re going to meet with us,” she said. “I’ll still be here on my hunger strike until the actual meeting takes place.”

Spence plans to attend the meetings in person, she added. “I’ll be there with my chiefs.”

Harper has agreed to meet about 10 days earlier than the date the Assembly of First Nations had proposed in a bid to both calm protests and put an end Spence’s nearly month-long hunger strike.

But Spence said she won’t close her encampment on Victoria Island, where she has lived without solid food since Dec. 11.

The prime minister’s office says the meeting next week will be co-ordinated by the Assembly of First Nations and will focus on treaty relationships, aboriginal rights and economic development.

“I think it is good news and a good move by the prime minister,” Grand Chief Stan Louttit told CBC News on Friday.

He said he was pleased that Spence will be included in the talks.

“Chief Spence has been the driving force for 25 days.”

The meeting is being billed as a follow-through on talks in January 2012 when the government and First Nations committed to an ongoing dialogue.

“While some progress has been made, there is more that must be done to improve outcomes for First Nations communities across Canada,” Harper said in a statement.

“The government of Canada and First Nations have an enduring historic relationship based on mutual respect, friendship and support. The government of Canada is committed to strengthening this relationship.”

Harper did not acknowledge Spence’s ongoing hunger strike when asked about the meetings at an event Friday in Oakville, Ont. And with regards to the broader Idle No More movement, he remained vague.

“In this country, people have the right in our country to demonstrate and express their points of view peacefully as long as they obey the law,” he said.

“I think the Canadian population expects everyone will obey the law in holding such protests.”

Protesters have threatened to shut down parts of the Canada-U.S. border on Saturday as part of ongoing protests.

The Idle No More movement has brought aboriginal communities together, suggested Alvin Fiddler, deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a regional advocacy network.

But there is a lot of work to do to repair the government’s relationship with First Nations, though he called Harper’s overture a “good first step.”

“It will not take just one meeting to fix that relationship that is broken,” he said.

“We will continue to hold the prime minister’s feet to the fire to ensure that meeting, if it does happen next Friday, will begin to establish that process.”

Louttit said the one-day meeting between the two sides last year accomplished little in the long run. Next week’s summit has to move things forward,  he said.

“We’re looking for better results this time around.”

A key issue for First Nations leadership is revenue sharing from natural resources development.

For example, Spence’s remote community of Attawapiskat, which is in northern Ontario, sits near a diamond mine.

While some band members as well as several new businesses are making decent money from the mine, the community remains impoverished.

Spence has been subsisting mainly on fish broth for almost a month, living in a tent on a frigid island in the Ottawa River, just upstream from Parliament Hill. She spoke softly, haltingly when she met reporters on Friday.

“She’s well, but you can tell her body is weak,” her spokesman, Danny Metatawabin, said Friday.

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Earlier story

The Canadian Press — Ottawa

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan say they will meet a delegation of First Nations leaders next Friday.

The meeting, to be co-ordinated by the Assembly of First Nations, will focus on treaty relationships and aboriginal rights and economic development, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

The statement was released moments before a news conference by aboriginal leaders and opposition critics to discuss the fading health of Theresa Spence, the hunger-striking chief of the poverty-racked Attawapiskat First Nation.

Spence — who has been vowing to continue her protest until Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston sit down with First Nations leaders — said Thursday such a meeting would have to take place within 72 hours.

Alvin Fiddler, deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a regional advocacy network, said there is a lot of work to do to repair the government’s relationship with First Nations.

But he called Harper’s overture “a good first step.”

Spence has been subsisting mainly on fish broth since Dec. 11, living in a tent on frigid Victoria Island on the Ottawa River, just upstream from Parliament Hill.

“She’s well, but you can tell her body is weak,” said her spokesman, Danny Metatawabin.

He said Spence is showing clear signs of fatigue but she is determined to hold to the hunger strike until she actually gets to see the prime minister.

Grand Chief Stan Louttit said a one-shot meeting between the two sides last year accomplished little in the long run. Next week’s summit has to mark the beginning of a process, he said.

“I’m hopeful we can make some progress with a commitment to keep that progress moving forward,” he said.

“We’re looking for better results this time around.”

 

Organizations: First Nations, Canadian Press, Assembly of First Nations.The

Geographic location: Victoria Island, Ottawa River

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Recent comments

  • William
    January 06, 2013 - 12:00

    Mr. Harper.....please give the natives nothing and take them nowhere. They've been gouging us working class citizens far too long.

  • Fact Checker
    January 05, 2013 - 07:03

    Some "hunger stirke." It is a joke. She is drinking fish broth everyday full of protien and fat. Those diet experts say that someone can last a long time on that, as opposed to the traditional hunger stirke of just water. Get real Chief! Also, tell us why her poor band is getting 90-Million a year in Government funding and still in squaller while she is getting $70,000 a year and her boyfriend is getting $850 a day. Sounds like much meat on the bones floating in a gravy train to me.

  • Tim
    January 04, 2013 - 15:49

    She's not on a hunger strike - she's dieting. It's all to deflect attention away from her gross mismanagement of band funds.

  • derek
    January 04, 2013 - 12:47

    Spence can starve herself for all I care. If you want better living conditions, get a job like the rest of us. Get over yourselves....you lost the battle, suck it up and go to work.....then your living conditions will improve.

  • darren
    January 04, 2013 - 12:19

    I certainly hope the PM is going to receive detailed spending reports from all of the chiefs on how they spent candian tax dollars.

    • Cal
      January 04, 2013 - 20:05

      I've been following the Chief Spence story while she attempts to garner sympathy from real Canadians . Never one to shy away from a photo op , Spence has been wearing oversized clothing and clinging on to peoples arms to make herself appear like she's at death's door . Hey Chief , Bobby Sands ur not. !! You're not on a hunger strike , it's called a diet . When u lose that extra Chin , i'll believe you . Keep it up Babe , you got a long way to go with your Hunger strike before you run into any imminent danger ..What a phony !!