APTN National News
OTTAWA--Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence stood at the steps leading up to the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill Monday and said she was “willing to die” if the federal government ignored her call for a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Queen Elizabeth II and First Nations leaders.
Spence plans to begin her hunger strike Tuesday morning after a sunrise ceremony on Victoria Island, just up the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill.
“I am willing to die for my people, the pain is too much,” said Spence. “Somebody asked me if I was afraid to die. No, I am not afraid to die, it’s a journey we have to go on and I will go and I am looking forward to it.”
Spence told reporters who had gathered for her small press conference that the Canadian government was ignoring the treaties and that the Crown, in whose name the treaties were signed, is ignoring the breakdown of the relationship. She wants the prime minister, the Queen, or a representative, to sit down with First Nations leaders and reestablish the treaty relationship.
“I want the Crown, the prime minister and all the leaders to sit down and rebuild that relationship and honour and protect the treaty,” said Spence.
The British, and later Canada, signed numerous treaties across the country and First Nations hold those treaties as defining their relationship with the Crown that predates the creation of Canada.
A meeting was held last January dubbed the Crown-First Nations gathering and it was attended by the prime minister and Gov.-Gen. David Johnston along with First Nations leaders.
Spence said the meeting was a failure because the Harper government didn’t change its approach to First Nations.
Spence’s community of Attawapiskat burst onto the national consciousness last fall after images of the community’s deplorable housing flashed across the country’s television screens.
The Harper government, however, attacked the community, blaming the band for its housing situation. Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan took away the band’s control over its finances and imposed a third-party manager.
Spence said her community was still in a housing crisis with people living in sheds and trailers.
In an open letter released early Monday, Spence said she decided to go on a hunger strike after “months” of consideration and meetings with elders.
“After a long period of reflection, the time is at hand for a clear statement,” wrote Spence.
Spence wrote that the Canadian government was trying to “isolate” and “assimilate” First Nations people.
“This process of marginalizing our political leadership, along with the enforced segregation of our people is part of a deliberate (attempt) to isolate our people, marginalize our people and ultimately assimilate our people so that our rich heritage can be wiped out and the great bounty contained in our traditional lands be made available for exploitation by large multi-national companies,” wrote Spence.
Spence plans to spend her days during the hunger strike on Parliament Hill and her evenings on nearby Victoria Island where she will sleep inside a structure there.