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Hunger striker Spence serves notice

Efforts to broker a solution to end a 24-day-old hunger strike by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence have foundered.

First Nations leaders had initially proposed a Jan. 24 meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnson, and took their proposal to Spence's teepee on Thursday afternoon.

But Spence told the aboriginal leaders Thursday that her failing health means she can't wait that long for assurances that her concerns about treaty rights will be addressed.

"She remains committed, she remains strong and she remains steadfast in what she is setting out to do," said Stan Louttit, grand chief of the Mushkegowuk Council, which includes the Attawapiskat First Nation.

"She is determined that a meeting with the prime minister is paramount and of utmost importance immediately."

Spence has been subsisting mainly on fish broth since Dec. 11, huddling in a tent on frozen Victoria Island on the Ottawa River, just beyond Parliament Hill.

Spence has no problem with First Nations leaders meeting with Harper in a few weeks time, Louttit said, but she wants to be included in a preliminary meeting well before then.

"I think what is required for the life of these individuals here, for the life of the chief, is that there needs to be a meeting with the prime minister soon, within the next two or three days. Her life is on the line," said Louttit.

"From a human perspective and as a leader of this nation, he has a duty, a moral duty as a father and a husbandto listen and be able to meet with Chief Spence so that she can finish what she has set out to do."

Louttit and other top Ontario chiefs travelled to Ottawa to strategize with Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo on Thursday in hopes of clarifying Spence's demands and laying the groundwork for a compromise that would end her hunger strike.

Spence has warned there will be more unrest, including "countrywide economic disturbances," unless Harper meets her.

Atleo, however, stressed the need for peaceful protest and concrete solutions.

"It's time for the Crown to honour its relationship and responsibilities to First Nations starting with the recognition and affirmation of our inherent and treaty rights,"he said.

"It's time for all First Nations citizens and their leaders to drive solutions."

The Canadian Press


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