(Round dance during Saturday’s Sandy Bay First Nation Trans-Canada blockade in Manitoba. Facebook photo from Krystyn Sayese)
APTN National News
OTTAWA–The “long silent war drums” of First Nations people will pound again if Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence dies from her hunger strike, says the head of Manitoba’s largest chiefs organization.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak issued the statement Sunday, the same day Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo released an open letter calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston to agree to Spence’s demand and meet with First Nations leaders to discuss the treaties.
Spence is into her sixth day of a hunger strike and she’s spending her days and nights in a teepee on Victoria Island which sits in the Ottawa River and in the shadow of the Supreme Court of Canada and Parliament Hill. Temperatures in Ottawa hovered between -6C and -10C over the weekend.
Spence says she won’t end her hunger strike until Harper and Johnston, as the representative of Queen Elizabeth II, meet with First Nations leaders to discuss the treaty relationship.
Treaties were signed between the reigning Monarchs over Canada, including Queen Victoria, Edward II and King George V, and First Nations people allowing for the settlement of Canadian territory. The last of the treaties, Treaty 11, was signed in 1921 after oil was discovered in near Fort Norman, in the Northwest Territories.
“If this prime minister fails to meet the conditions and this powerful Attawapiskat chief passes, the long silent war drums of our people must ring loudly in the ears of everyone,” said Nepinak, who was one of four chiefs who tried to enter the House of Commons chamber two weeks ago only to be pushed back by Parliament Hill guards.
The Prime Minister’s Office and the Governor General’s office did not return requests for comment as of this article’s posting Sunday.
APTN National News reported Friday that the AFN has discussed a possible meeting involving Harper with the PMO. The PMO denied there were any negotiations.
Harper and Johnston attended last January’s Crown-First Nations gathering with First Nations leaders across the country. Many chiefs feel that the so-called “historic” gathering accomplished nothing and instead the Harper government pushed through legislation impacting treaty and Aboriginal rights along with the Indian Act without any consultation.
“We seek an immediate commitment to a meeting with (Johnston) as the representative of the Crown, together with (Harper), to demonstrate respect and attention to the priorities set by First Nations,” wrote Alteo. “All First Nations across Canada stand united and in solidarity in advancing this urgent call for action and attention.”
Anishinabek Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee also wrote a letter Sunday to Harper urging him to meet Spence’s request.
“It would be disgraceful to Canada and the Canadian citizens your office represents if Chief Spence falls ill during her dire plea for democracy,” wrote Madahbee, who also tried to enter the House of Commons chamber along with Nepinak. “In fact, many view your lack of response over the past six days to be incomprehensible considering Chief Spence has stated that she is willing to die for this cause.”
Chiefs and First Nations people from across Canada, many travelling on buses, are converging in Ottawa this week for a Friday rally as part of the Idle No More movement that has swept the country through rallies and blockades.
The movement began as a protest against Bill C-45, the Harper government’s omnibus bill. The bill passed the Senate last Friday, but Idle No More continues.