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Hunger protest is over

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has agreed to end her hunger protest, and National Chief Shawn Atleo is coming back to work, but Ottawa-First Nations politics are certainly not returning to normal.

Spence agreed Wednesday to call a halt to her 44-day fast, during which she stayed in a teepee on a frigid island upstream from Parliament Hill, and managed to push First Nations issues to the top of the national political agenda.

The protest commanded the attention of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his ministers and his top officials, and galvanized public opinion in Canada and around the world, revealing a stark division between people who want to see more help for First Nations and those who believe they already get too much.

The protest also exacerbated a schism within the Assembly of First Nations, with many chiefs questioning Atleo's leadership, and touched off a round of public soul-searching about what it takes to bring success to aboriginal people in Canada.

"Our shared goal is simple and clear: to guarantee that our children can achieve the brighter future that they deserve. This is what every chief across this country, every member of the Assembly of First Nations, will continue to fight to achieve," Atleo said in a statement Wednesday.

"Our mandate is to advance the priorities of First Nations in those areas, and to achieve that justice for our children. We have made real progress in recent weeks. Our journey, the chiefs, the AFN and mine, will not be over until we have won those guarantees."

Those sentiments aren't new, but Spence's protest, coupled with the thousands of people who marched in the streets and blocked highways in the dead of winter under the Idle No More banner, gave Canada a taste of the impatience aboriginal communities have with the status quo.

On Thursday, First Nations leaders served notice that they don't intend to fade away.

"Chief Spence is a brave warrior and we commend her foresight and commitment to propel the First Nations agenda to the forefront, which governments have dismally failed to do since Confederation," Manitoba chiefs said in a joint statement.

"The chiefs in Manitoba agree to continue the fight that will bring expedient fundamental change."

Spence's allies say she has scored numerous 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.

Spence's protest also attracted unwanted attention, however: 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.

The Canadian Press


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