By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
OTTAWA--A weakening Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, now into day 20 of her hunger strike, issued a “call to arms” Sunday during a rare press conference outside her snow-covered teepee on Victoria Island.
Spence, who began her hunger-strike on Dec. 11 with the aim of forcing a treaty meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the governor-general and First Nations leaders, said she was feeling weak and tired.
“I am feeling a little bit weak and I get tired easily,” said Spence, while surrounded by TV cameras and reporters shivering from the -21 C temperatures with the wind chill.
APTN National News was told that Spence suffered through a rough day on Saturday and Sunday’s press conference and meeting with MPs during a two hour open-house at the log fence-lined compound was expected to exhaust her.
While Spence spoke briefly, repeating her position that she plans to continue the hunger strike until the meeting happens, one of her closest aides Danny Metatawabin, from Attawapiskat, read a statement on her behalf.
In the statement, Spence called on First Nations chiefs to start leading the Idle No More movement, which was sparked and maintained by grassroots people through round dances, blockades and rallies across the country throughout December.
“This is a call to arms and a call to action in the most peaceful and respectful way that reflects our natural laws as Indigenous nations,” said Metatawabin as he read the statement. “First Nations leadership needs to take charge and control of the situation on behalf of the grassroots movement. We need to reignite that nation to nation relationship.”
Over a dozen MPs and Senators from the Liberal and NDP parties also visited with Spence Sunday, lining up to shake her hand and later waiting their turn to enter the teepee where Spence sleeps, which is warmed by a woodstove and insulated by blankets on the inside.
“How could it be that in a country like Canada that someone has to have a hunger strike in order to get the prime minister to meet nationally elected leaders?” said NDP MP Charlie Angus, whose riding includes Attawapiskat. “I am asking the prime minister, don’t be a fool.”
Liberal leadership candidate Marc Garneau said he didn’t agree that Harper would set a problematic precedent by agreeing to the demands of a hunger-striker. Garneau said the current situation was comprised of a number of factors that set it apart.
“This is a dramatic situation, this is a manifestation of a huge amount of frustration between a huge amount of frustration between Aboriginal people, First Nations and the government,” said Garneau. “This is a very, very serious and important part of being a leader in government. He should meet with Aboriginal leaders and Chief Spence.”
Across the country again Sunday, the Idle No More movement continued apace through round dances, traffic slowdowns and two ongoing rail blockades in Ontario and British Columbia.
Also in Ottawa Sunday, a group of about 30 chiefs met to discuss their next plan of action.