Attawapiskat chief’s hunger strike enters 3rd week as protests mount
Published Thursday, December 27, 2012 8:25AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 27, 2012 10:47PM EST
As she enters the third week of her hunger strike, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence says she won’t back down until the Canadian government agrees to address First Nations’ struggles.
“We’re living in Third World conditions right now and the prime minister says this is a great country…it’s not,” Spence said in an interview with CTV News.
“For us, he is not even responding and when you see that happening it’s really dishonourable and disrespectful from him,” she said of her attempts to organize a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the governor general and First Nations leaders.
Spence said she’s not demanding a personal, face-to-face meeting with Harper, but wants his agreement to attend a summit with treaty chiefs.
Spence has been living in a teepee on an island in the Ottawa River since Dec. 11, subsisting on water, medicine tea and fish broth. She said she will continue her protest until Ottawa agrees to discuss First Nations rights and is willing to die for the cause.
“If this is my journey…then I’m going to go on that journey,” she said.
The federal government has offered Spence a meeting with Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan and Senator Patrick Brazeau, who is Algonquin, but Spence has rejected those.
In letters to Spence, Duncan has urged her to end the hunger strike and reconsider meeting with him, given that she accepted a visit from Liberal MP Justin Trudeau on Wednesday.
New Democrat MP Charlie Angus also said he is prepared to travel to Ottawa to visit Spence on Friday.
“The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have made repeated efforts to reach Chief Spence to engage in discussion on the issues she has raised,” Duncan’s spokesperson said in a statement Thursday.
“We will continue trying to engage the Chief and other First Nation leaders to discuss how we can build on the progress we have made since 2006.”
Spence has become the face of the growing Idle No More movement, sparked by the recently-passed Bill C-45, the omnibus budget bill. Movement organizers say the bill will speed up the process for aboriginals to surrender their reserve lands.
Activists are also protesting the new law because it includes clauses they say will cut the number of federally-protected waterways, jeopardizing the lands they rely on.
First Nations groups say the legislation was passed without sufficient consultation and that the government is preparing to remove power from band councils.
Protesters blocked a CN Rail line in Sarnia, Ont. for a seventh day Thursday, vowing not to leave until long after Harper meets Spence.
Ron Plain, a member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation who`s acting as a spokesperson for the blockade, says their actions and the entire Idle No More movement is about more than securing more promises.
“Our position here in Aamjiwnaang is not just about getting a meeting with the prime minister; it`s about following through on the commitments that are made when that meeting takes place,” Plain told CTV`s Canada AM from Sarnia.
“Last year, as you recall, Attawapiskat (First Nation in northern Ontario) was promised the world when everybody showed up at their door. None of those promises were fulfilled. What we are saying here in Aamjiwnaang is that we will keep the blockade up until we see that the promises that are going to be made are being fulfilled.”
The week-old blockade is currently blocking a rail line that runs through Aamjiwnaang to several chemical and refining plants in what’s been dubbed Chemical Valley. A court injunction has been issued to end the blockade, but Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley has said that so long as the demonstration is peaceful, police won’t interfere.
Plain says the blockade doesn`t affect the agriculture industry not does it impact the public.
“The rail line where we are standing is illegally on our property. They don’t have a permit to cross our road, and they need a permit from both the band and Indian Affairs Canada,” Plain explained. “That’s why we’ve chosen that spot to take our stand.”
The blockade is earning a surprising amount of support from Sarnia residents, says Plain, noting many have come out to show their support, despite a snowstorm this week.
“It`s been really surprising,” he said. “The member of Parliament from Guelph came by yesterday with hot chocolate and sweets. Complete strangers are dropping off Christmas presents. Someone came by dressed as Santa for the kids. The Sarnia Police are bringing us coffee and in fact, one sat down with one of the drums and for a few songs.
“So the mood of the people outside of the reserve and into the main population of Sarnia seems to be one of support.”
With a report from CTV’s Chief Political Correspondent Craig Oliver