Canadian Prime Minister is RIGHT NOW meeting with some First Nations chiefs, having been forced to by the Idle No More movement which has swept across Canada in recent weeks. Meanwhile, a day of action is taking place around the country. This photo is of a First Nations march today in Ottawa. Things are hotting up!
More than 100 First Nations chiefs were preparing to visit Rideau Hall Friday night for a ceremonial meeting with Governor General David Johnston – among them the Ontario chief who has been fasting to protest government policies.
It wasn’t known if Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence would end her liquid-only diet at the meeting, however.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and senior cabinet members met with representatives from the Assembly of First Nations, despite opposition from many regional chiefs who shunned that get-together.
Chiefs who boycotted the Harper meeting had wanted the Governor General to attend it, but Johnston planned instead to host native leaders late in the day, after formal talks ended.
Speaking to protesters on Parliament Hill earlier in the day, some chiefs said they weren’t happy that executives from the AFN were at Harper’s office. Their boycott was a sign of discontent with the federal government, but also with AFN national chief Shawn Atleo, who was in the four-hour meeting with Harper along with aboriginal representatives from some, though not all, provinces.
Chief Perry Bellegarde, Saskatchewan’s regional chief, who boycotted the meeting, said the absent chiefs had nonetheless sent written submissions into the meeting.
“We’ve put everything in writing and that’s being discussed and dialogued right now.”
Spence herself emerged briefly Friday morning from the teepee on an island in the Ottawa River, where she has been maintaining her fast for more than a month. She talked briefly about the hardships native Canadians face and urged the government to “renew” the relationship.
In a rambling but defiant statement, Spence decried the devolution of power in Canada from the Crown to the prime minister, and suggested the news media were misleading Canadians. A spokesperson said she would continue her liquid-only diet, which she has been on for the last month.
Not everyone felt she should continue her strike, however.
Murray Sinclair, the aboriginal chairman of the federally created Truth and Reconciliation Commission — which emerged from the residential schools apology process — praised a “new, bright and younger leadership” of Canadian aboriginals that make up the “Idle No More” movement, in the face of what he called “tremendously negative backlash and outright racism.”
He said on his Facebook page that the movement, and Spence’s protest, had achieved enormous results for aboriginal people, but he urged her to return to eating solid food.
Andrew MacDougall, Harper’s director of communications, said the AFN talks with the prime minister were proceeding as planned and were aimed at addressing First Nations’ concerns on the treaty relationship and aboriginal rights, and economic development.
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs displays a medal depicting the Indian Treaty as he marches to take part in a protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday January 11, 2013.Photo: Fred Chartrand
“This government has been abusing us, raping the land,” she added. “The treaty was not about control, it’s about sharing, honouring and respecting each other.”
“You all do us proud, regardless of whatever the immediate outcomes are. Your work is a great achievement. You are game changers. Our future, not only as Aboriginal people but as Canadians, looks brighter with such advocates,” Sinclair said.
“I would for that reason, also ask that those who can, ask Chief Theresa Spence and the other hunger strikers to bring their hunger strikes to a halt. Their stance has achieved far more than they may have dreamed or sought. Any damage to them, or their loss, would hurt us in ways we cannot calculate.”
His remarks came amid last-minute scrambling over the form a First Nations meeting with the prime minister would take. Talks were to get underway at 1 p.m. eastern time, but with only some chiefs attending. many decided to boycott.
She was briefly interrupted by shouting as she tried to make a statement. A spokesperson said she would take no questions.
Spence, in a rambling but defiant statement, decried the devolution of power in Canada from the Crown to the prime minister, and suggested the news media were misleading Canadians. A spokesperson said she would continue her liquid-only diet.
Protests took place across Canada Friday as part of the Idle No More movement — following a day of drama Thursday among First Nations chiefs and a week that catapulted aboriginal issues onto the front pages.
Bellegarde — one of the leaders initially scheduled to meet with Harper on Friday — said Thursday night he would not attend the talks and stood in solidarity with Spence and other leaders.
Indeed, the night before the meeting, many chiefs from across the country declared their support for Spence and demanded the prime minister and Governor General both attend the Friday working meeting, which Johnston did not do.
Pam Palmater, the Ryerson University professor who was Atleo’s chief rival in last summer’s national chief elections, suggested Atleo’s decision to meet Harper undercut the validity of the AFN.
“Atleo has no choice but to listen to the chiefs, because he has no independent political authority,” she added.
Chiefs are demanding the federal government respect long-standing treaty rights, create a new agreement on natural resource development and revenue sharing, and revisit contentious federal government legislation, including the Indian Act.
The tough talk and emotional pleas threatened to scuttle progress.
Sharp divisions were evident as up to 200 chiefs gathered at the hotel Thursday evening.
“No longer will the prime minister dictate to us,” said Onion Lake First Nation Chief Wallace Fox.
“If we have to shut down this economy, then we will.”
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae called on the Harper government to repair its relationship with First Nations.
“It is not a comedy of errors but it’s a tragedy of errors that we find ourselves in this situation today,” Rae said about the difficulty in having First Nations arrange something as simple as a meeting with the prime minister and Governor General.
Tom Mulcair, leader of the official Opposition, had planned to host 20 chiefs at his residence Thursday night, but the plan fell through as the chiefs were still wrestling over whether to attend Friday’s meeting with the prime minister. Mulcair has been silent on this week’s developments.
Photo credit: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press