Chief Theresa Spence to end hunger strike Thursday
January 23, 2013
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence will end her six-week-long hunger strike on Thursday morning, CBC News has learned.
The Assembly of First Nations, the NDP caucus, and the Liberal caucus have all signed a declaration from Spence. Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, who was in Sarnia Wednesday, will also signing the 13-point declaration.
Michèle Audette, president of the Canadian native women’s association, said there will be a press conference tomorrow morning.
Spence, who has been subsisting on fish broth and medicinal tea since Dec. 11, has been examining ways to return to her home and nurse herself back to health, multiple sources told The Canadian Press.
The northern Ontario First Nations community chief has been engaged in her protest for six weeks, camped on an island in the Ottawa River not far from Parliament Hill, in an effort to convince the country’s top leaders to take First Nations concerns seriously.
Rae brings with him a reputation as a firm but approachable and respectful mediator in tricky situations such as the Burnt Church aboriginal fishing dispute in 2000. Fiddler is from the same region as Spence and is known as a practical, sharp thinker. A delegation that includes Rae and Alvin Fiddler, northern Ontario deputy grand chief at Nishnawbe Aski Nation, has been working closely with Spence to hash out a dignified solution.
As well, a delegation from Attawapiskat is about to head to Ottawa to ask their chief to end her hunger strike. Attawapiskat’s acting chief, Christine Okimaw-Kataquapit, and an elder are leaving for Ottawa on Wednesday afternoon and plan to meet with Spence in the morning.
Kataquapit told CBC Radio she will present a letter signed by all band councillors in Attawapiskat.
The letter states that community members feel she has made her point and it’s time to come home. The letter also expresses concern for Spence’s health.
Declaration calls for many actions
Rae and Fiddler, along with Spence and a couple of her closest confidantes, have been working the phone lines to craft a declaration of the chief’s concerns that would be signed by supporters. They also hope to design a ceremony to mark what her protest has accomplished, and define a process that will allow Spence a recovery.
A draft copy of the declaration, obtained by CBC News, states that Spence and Robinson would continue their hunger strike unless they could be assured that commitments made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Jan. 11, in the meeting with national AFN Chief Shawn Atleo and other First Nations chiefs, are followed though and implemented as quickly as possible.
Earlier, Michelle Audet, President of the Quebec Native Women’s Association, told CBC that Spence wanted the NDP and the Liberal party to sign the declaration, as well as chiefs, and national native organizations
The declaration also asks for:
- An immediate meeting between the Crown, the federal and provincial governments, and all First Nations to discuss treaty and non-treaty-related relationships.
- Clear work plans and timelines, and a demand that the housing crisis within First Nations communities be considered as a short-term immediate action.
- Frameworks and mandates for implementation and enforcement of treaties on a nation-to-nation basis.
- Reforming and modifying a land-claims policy
- A commitment towards resource revenue sharing, requiring the participation of provinces and territories.
- A review of Bill C-38 and C-45 to ensure consistency with constitutional requirements about consultation with aboriginal peoples.
- Ensure that all federal legislation has the consent of First Nations where inherent and Treaty rights are affected
- The removal of funding caps and the indexing of payments made to First Nations.
- An inquiry into violence against indigenous women.
- Equity in capital construction of First Nation schools and additional funding support for First Nation languages.
- A dedicated cabinet committee and secretariat within the Privy Council Office responsible for the First Nation-Crown relationship.
- Full implementation of the United Nations declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples.
Push for another meeting with Harper, GG
Thursday is the the day Spence and the Assembly of First Nations had asked Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston to hold a broad meeting with the country’s chiefs, partly to commemorate the first anniversary of last year’s Crown-First Nation gathering, which was supposed to have reset relations between the two sides.
Harper and Johnston have not agreed to that meeting, but several chiefs are expected to come to Ottawa day anyway, Ontario Grand Chief Stan Beardy said earlier this week.
Speaking Wednesday from Cambridge, Ont., where he made an auto-industry announcement, Harper said that a date for a meeting has not been set. He stressed the need for aboriginal people to be able to participate in the economy.
“Those opportunities exist with resource development in remote areas with the shortage of labour the Canadian economy’s going to be experiencing and I want to see aboriginal people, particularly young aboriginal people, take full advantage of those opportunities,” Harper said.
Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair, speaking from Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec, said Wednesday that he plans to work with the AFN and Atleo.
“We continue to hope that as discussions move on we can see rather rapidly an end to the hunger strikes because we’re worried about people’s health,” he said.
Mulcair has not visited with Spence since she began her hunger strike, but he noted that about 20 NDP MPs had met personally with her.
There’s a growing list of politicians and First Nations leaders anxious to see Spence end her protest. They have been careful, however, to leave the final decision up to her.
Instead, they are telling Spence how they count her victories: Greater national awareness of First Nations issues; a meeting between the AFN, Harper and several cabinet ministers; and a commitment to modernize treaties and aboriginal rights, with negotiations between chiefs and the top levels of government.
They also say Spence’s resolve helped galvanize thousands of protesters across the country under the Idle No More banner.
Spence protest put spotlight on band’s finances
Spence’s protest attracted unwanted attention, too: Much publicity surrounded a government-ordered audit of her band’s finances that showed a lack of proper documentation for about $100 million in funding.
Rae, the Assembly of First Nations, Spence’s spokesman and Fiddler would not comment Tuesday when contacted by The Canadian Press.
Women chiefs have been instrumental in keeping Spence’s spirits up, say insiders.
Indeed, a group of Manitoba women chiefs has just wrapped up a visit to Spence, and has issued a call for female chiefs to come to Ottawa on Thursday to support the Cree leader.
“We share Chief Spence’s deep concern for the future of our nations and echo Chief Spence’s call for restoring our relationship with the Crown to reflect the original spirit and intent of the treaties,” said a statement from Chief Betsy Kennedy of War Lake First Nation.
Atleo due to return to duties
While Spence’s protest may be forging a bond among First Nations women leaders, her refusal to budge over the past few weeks has divided the Assembly of First Nations and prompted questions about the leadership of Atleo.
Atleo attended the meeting with Harper on Jan. 11 even though the Governor General was not included in the meeting, as Spence had demanded. She boycotted the meeting, as did many chiefs from Manitoba, Ontario and other parts of the country.
Atleo has been on sick leave ever since, but issued a statement on Monday saying he would be back at work with a united AFN later this week.