Prime Minister's Office silent as Attawapiskat Chief Spence enters third day of hunger strike

APTN National News
OTTAWA–Opposition MPs said Thursday they were worried about the health of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence who is now into her third day of a hunger strike and they called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene.

Spence began her hunger strike Tuesday after a ceremony on Victoria Island which sits in the shadow of Parliament Hill. Spence launched her hunger strike in hopes of forcing a treaty meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Queen Elizabeth II and First Nations leaders.

NDP MP Charlie Angus, whose riding includes Attawapiskat, said during a rally in support of Spence that he was concerned about the chief’s health.

“This is a day of darkness, this is a dark time,” said Angus. “I am very, very concerned about Chief Spence’s health. I am very concerned about what is happening here.”

Angus said the Harper government created the situation that led Spence to go on a hunger strike. Angus said the government showed little compassion and instead attacked Spence and her band council last fall when the northern Ontario community on the banks of the Attawapiskat River declared a state of emergency over a housing crisis. In a move later criticized as “unreasonable” by the Federal Court, Duncan pulled the band council’s authority over its finances and imposed a third-party manager.

“It was dark last December when the people of Attawapiskat were living in tents and (Ottawa) deposed her and they accused her and her council of all kinds of lies and the people in their community held strong,” said Angus. “We shouldn’t be here today, today is a result of a failure of the government to reach out at that moment.”

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett also said she was concerned about Spence’s health and also called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to visit with the chief who is spending her days in a teepee warmed by a fire.

“We are here in solidarity with Chief Spence, we are concerned about her health, we are calling on the prime minister to intervene,” said Bennett. “That is what Chief Spence is asking for, it doesn’t seem too much for him to intervene and listen to what she has to say.”

The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request seeking comment on whether Harper even knows Spence is on a hunger strike.

Duncan’s office, however, said they had offered to meet with her and were waiting for her to respond.

“The minister indicated this week that he was willing to meet with Chief Spence,” said Jason MacDonald, spokesperson for Duncan, in an email. “We look forward to her response.”

MacDonald said Duncan’s parliamentary secretary Greg Rickford has also offered to fly up to Attawapiskat.

Ellen Gabriel, a leading spokesperson during the 1990 Oka crisis in Kanesatake, said Duncan shouldn’t wait for an invitation, but go out of “compassion” and visit Spence.

“It would not take much effort and much gas for minister Duncan to get in a car and go and talk to Theresa Spence. It should not be about a formal letter coming,” said Gabriel. “As a human being, he should have the compassion and the concern for what is happening.”

Duncan was in Ottawa Thursday.


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