APTN National News
OTTAWA–Hunger-striking Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence issued a statement Tuesday again calling on the prime minister and the governor general to agree to a meeting with First Nations leaders from across the country to discuss the treaties.
Spence is into her eight day of a hunger strike and she is spending most of her days and nights in a teepee on Victoria Island, which sits in the Ottawa River and in the shadow of Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court of Canada.
Spence, whose northern Ontario community burst onto the national consciousness last year during a housing crisis, began the hunger strike to force a national treaty meeting.
“I am calling on Prime Minister Harper and the governor-general to initiate immediate discussions and the development of action plans to address treaty issues with First Nations across Canada,” said Spence, in a statement which was distributed by the Assembly of First Nations. “There has been no progress in alleviating the state of poverty that exists with First Nations across Canada, especially in rural isolated reserves, contrary to progress reported by the Conservative government.”
The Prime Minister’s Office has indicated it’s unlikely Harper will agree to the meeting. The PMO said Monday the prime minister already attended the Crown-First Nations gathering last January which included Gov. Gen. David Johnston and First Nations leaders from across the country. The PMO also said Harper met with Atleo on Nov. 28.
Johnston ignored questions about a meeting with Spence during a public appearance Tuesday at Ottawa’s city hall.
Spence says in the statement that the Canadian government has not followed through with any of its commitments flowing the Crown-First Nations gathering.
“Canada has not upheld the honour of the Crown in its dealings with First Nations, as evidenced in its inadequate and inequitable funding relationship with our nations,” said Spence’s statement. “Treaties are international in nature and further Indigenous rights are human rights, both collective and individual and must be honoured and respected.”
Spence said the time for talk had passed.
“There has been enough talk, enough politics, now is the time to develop action plans,” said Spence, in the statement. “All First Nations across Canada stand united and in solidarity in advancing this urgent call for action and attention.”
Members of Parliament MP’s are starting to take notice of Spence’s hunger strike. Today Ottawa NDP MP Paul Dewar spent time with Attawapiskat’s chief to talk about her concerns.
“It’s a mixture of sadness, frustration and anger, we have seen this all too often and just ignoring it as if there’s nothing to deal with here and almost like it’s an irritant when people do speak up and speak out,” he said.
And Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, the party’s Aboriginal affairs critic, also released a letter to the prime minister Tuesday accusing Harper of treating First Nations peoples as “adversaries.” Bennett said Harper had damaged any of the goodwill generated by his 2008 apology to Indian residential school survivors.
“The discontent of First Nations with your government’s subsequent unilateral and paternalistic approach has reached a level that could irrevocably damage the relationship between First Nations and the Crown and will lead to a long-term confrontation,” said Bennett. “The hunger strike of Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat…illustrates the profound frustration of First Nations leaders with your refusal to listen to or act upon their legitimate concerns.”
In her letter, Bennett calls on Harper to agree to the treaty meeting and also visit Spence to hear “directly from her why she has felt it necessary to take such drastic action.”