By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
OTTAWA--There was an air of victory on Victoria Island Friday afternoon on day 25 of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike after it was announced Prime Minister Stephen Harper would meet with First Nations leaders next Friday.
Pounding drums and singing accompanied Spence as she emerged from her teepee and stood facing a line of television cameras, photographers and reporters. Eagle feathers waved in the air above her head.
Spence, flanked by one of her closest aides Danny Metatawabin and fellow hunger striker Cross Lake First Nation Elder Raymond Robinson, said that while she was “overjoyed” to hear Harper had chosen to meet, she wouldn’t end her hunger strike until she was satisfied with the meeting’s outcome.
“I am really overjoyed to hear that the prime minister and the governments are going to meet with us on Jan. 11,” said Spence, who will be attending the meeting. “We will see what the results, if there are really positive results because there are a lot of issues we need to discuss and work together as partners.”
Spence said she also wants Gov. Gen. David Johnston to attend the meeting, along with Ontario’s premier.
The governor general’s office said they could not yet confirm whether Johnston will attend.
It was still unclear late Friday afternoon where the meeting will be held.
A nurse also visited Spence on Friday and the Attawapiskat chief said she was still healthy and doing fine.
“I am still healthy, my heart-beat is still strong,” said Spence, who has spent most of time since Dec. 11 on Victoria Island which sits in the Ottawa River and in the shadow of Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court building.
Spence has said she is surviving on just fish broth, medicinal tea and water.
The Jan. 11 meeting is expected to focus on the treaties, Aboriginal rights and economic development.
Wherever it’s held, there are now plans in the works to greet the meeting’s date with massive Idle No More rallies across Canada and internationally.
On Friday, highway slowdowns, rallies and round dances continued across Canada. A rail blockade was also launched in New Brunswick. Planned Canada-U.S. border shutdowns, including the New York State-Ontario border in Awkesasne, were still set for Saturday.
Speaking during an announcement at a Ford plant in Oakville, Ont., Harper made no reference to Spence and said the Jan. 11 meeting was simply an extension of his government’s work with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo and the Jan. 24, 2012, Crown-First Nation gathering.
“We arrived at a work plan on a number of things we wanted to see move forward,” said Harper. “I met with (AFN) National Chief Shawn Atleo in November about setting up future meetings to follow the progress and ensure we are making progress…There is tremendous potential among our First Nations and we want to realize that potential.”
Harper said it was up to the AFN to figure out who will be attending the meeting on their said.
The prime minister also responded to a question about Idle No More by saying people in Canada had a right to “demonstrate and express their points of view peacefully as long as they obey the law.”
Atleo also issued a statement saying the planned meeting was “an important and essential next step in our broad efforts to fully and meaningfully engage in a nation-to-nation relationship.”
The national chief, however, was not available for media interviews and skipped a planned press conference Friday morning with NDP MP Charlie Angus, Metatawabin and Treaty 9 Mushkegowuk chiefs.
Atleo had originally invited Harper and Johnston to a meeting Jan. 24.
Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Wallace Fox issued a statement saying the Conservative government needed to rescind sections of the recently passed omnibus Bill C-45 that have impact on lands and begin resource revenue sharing with First Nations.
“If we had a system of resource revenue sharing, we would not be in this situation. We share the wealth of our nations and territories as envisioned by the treaties made by our old people,” said Fox, whose Saskatchewan First Nation is part of Treaty 6.
Fox also said that he did not view the AFN as representing the voice and interests of his nation.
Fox, along with Serpent River First Nation Chief Isadore Day, from Ontario, had been involved in chairing and coordinating meetings with First Nations chiefs from across the country over the post-Christmas holidays to respond to Spence’s hunger strike and the still-unfolding Idle No More movement.
Both Fox and Day were among four chiefs who scuffled with security guards at threshold of the House of Commons chamber in December and the incident added fuel to the already smoldering fire that is Idle No More
Day issued a statement calling for unity.
“The people are saying ‘change is needed and that the rights of First Nations people must see affirmative action,’” said Day. “This must be the bottom line in a meeting with the prime minister.”
Day also issued a warning to the AFN.
“Any bids from the (AFN) to leave out the grass roots during this process will not only hurt the organization, it will perpetuate challenges that First Nation leaders have been dealing with on the ground for weeks since this movement began,” said Day.