Theresa Spence, the First Nation chief whose month-long hunger protest has helped to fan the flames of the Idle No More protest movement, emerged from her island encampment Friday to meet with Gov. Gen. David Johnston.
Spence, chief of the troubled Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, has been on a liquids-only diet for the past month, camped out on Victoria Island in the Ottawa River, in hopes of securing a meeting with Johnston and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Spence joined a group of her fellow chiefs at a downtown Ottawa hotel before heading to Rideau Hall for an evening meeting described by officials as "ceremonial." Looking frail and tired, she walked gingerly with the help of several handlers.
At one point, she stood briefly in a room full of chiefs, wearing a headdress, to be feted by a group of aboriginal drummers. Her health, however, is seriously diminished, said spokesman Danny Metatawabin, who admitted surprise at her appearance at the hotel.
"She's tired, she's weak. She's weakening. Got cramps in her stomach. We're all praying for her," Metatawabin said.
"The body's stressed right now because of all the commotion of today."
She later boarded one of two buses waiting to ferry the group to Rideau Hall.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan and several of Spence's fellow chiefs were among those publicly urging Spence to end her protest, saying her health is in danger and she accomplished what she set out to do.
"I had a personal friend who went on a hunger strike years ago, and it did great detriment to his health," Duncan said.
"I have been very much wanting to have a conversation with Theresa Spence, I've offered multiple times, and I expressed concern again today; there were many people in the room who expressed major concern."
Harvey Yesno, Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which also includes Attawapiskat, said it's up to Spence whether she wants to continue her protest. But her reserve needs a leader, he noted.
"We're concerned about that, if she carries on," Yesno said in an interview. "That's probably the most important thing."
Stan Louttit, grand chief of the Mushkegowuk Council, told CBC he's urging Spence to call a halt to her protest.
"I ... told her, 'Look, you've made your point. You've won this victory. You've made Canadians aware .... You have done good for your people.'"
But Louttit said Spence is still holding out for a meeting with both Harper and the Governor General at t. "That's the bottom line."
Grand Chief Doug Kelly of B.C.'s First Nation Summit expressed a similar concern for the Attawapiskat people, and urged an end to the protest so that chiefs and First Nations executives can get on with negotiating with the federal government to improve the conditions of their people.
"We didn't vote for Theresa Spence as national chief," Kelly said.
Earlier Friday, a sprawling crowd of protesters swirled outside the Prime Minister's Office in the shadow of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill as Friday's controversial meeting between Harper and First Nations leaders got underway.
There were similar, smaller demonstrations across the country, including a rail blockade in Nova Scotia.
A crowd of about 3,000 people, according to police estimates, gathered outside the sandstone building known as Langevin Block where the meetings were taking place, chanting, drumming and waving makeshift banners.
Many then crossed Wellington Street and rallied in front of the Centre Block, brandishing flags and chanting along with the rhythmic beat of skin drums.
Raymond Robinson, a Manitoba elder who has spent the last 30 days fasting to back a demand that Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston meet native leaders together, said he's fed up.
"We were never respected as First Nations people of this land," Robinson said. "They're always saying what's good for us. We know what's right for us."
A government-ordered audit, leaked earlier this week, concluded there was little documentation to back up Attawapiskat's spending.
Spence said she has been the victim of false statements about her reserve's handling on money.
"It goes out of our reserve," she said. "For example, if there's housing, we have to hire contractors, we have to order the materials from out of town and the shipment, we pay tax on that.
"We hire lawyers ... consultants, that's where the money goes."