Harper unlikely to meet hunger-striking Attawapiskat chief's request for meeting

A group of First Nations leaders and supporters of hunger-striking Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence taped a letter to the gates of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s home Monday demanding he agree to a meeting with First Nations leaders.

(Letter taped by AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak to gates of 24 Sussex Dr. APTN/Photo)

By Jorge Barrera and Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
A group of First Nations leaders and supporters of hunger-striking Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence taped a letter to the gates of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s home Monday demanding he agree to a meeting with First Nations leaders.

The chances of the meeting happening, however, appear remote.

The Prime Minister’s Office responded saying Harper already met with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo about three weeks ago. The PMO also said the prime minister agreed to last January’s Crown-First Nations gathering that included Gov-Gen. David Johnston and First Nations leaders from across the country.

“The prime minister hosted an historic gathering of Crown and First Nations this past January. Since then, the government has been working with First Nations leadership to make progress in several areas, most notably education and infrastructure on reserve,” said the PMO in an emailed statement to APTN National News. “In fact the prime minister met with National Chief Atleo to review the progress to date and to discuss a range of issues.”

The PMO said Atleo and Harper met on Nov. 28. The meeting hasn’t been made public until now.

The AFN confirmed the meeting happened. The source said Atleo told Harper he was “concerned” about the lack of progress on the government’s side since the Crown-First Nations gathering. Atleo has not met with Harper since Spence began her hunger strike, according to an AFN spokesperson.

APTN National News reported late last week that the AFN had been pushing the PMO for a meeting, but the PMO denied there were any negotiations.

The PMO has also consistently responded to questions on Spence’s hunger-strike demands by referring to Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan’s offer to meet with Spence.

Spence says she doesn’t want to meet with Duncan.

The PMO issued the statement shortly after Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Serpent River First Nation Chief Isadore Day and about a dozen people gathered outside the decorated gates of Harper’s official residence to tape the letter from Atleo. Atleo’s letter was released publicly on Sunday.

With Harper’s RCMP security detail watching, Nepinak sprinkled tobacco on the ground before pulling out a roll of packing tape and affixing the letter, which was inside a folder bearing the AFN’s insignia, to the bars at the gate to 24 Sussex Dr.

“I believe it to be a symbolic gesture, but nonetheless our people need to see that we are taking deliberate steps to do our part as today’s leaders to engage the prime minister on this very critical matter,” said Nepinak.

Nepinak, Indigenous rights activist and Ryerson professor Pam Palmater and Spence’s supporters gathered on Parliament Hill earlier in the day for a press conference in the rain in support of Spence.

Nepinak met with Spence Sunday night on Victoria Island and Atleo met with the Attawapiskat chief on Friday.

Spence is now into her seventh day of a hunger strike and she spends her days and evenings in a teepee on Victoria Island, which sits in the Ottawa River in the shadow of the Supreme Court and Parliament Hill.

She says she won’t eat another morsel of food until the prime minister and Johnston agree to a meeting to discuss the treaties with First Nations leaders.

Treaties were signed between the reigning Monarchs over Canada, including Queen Victoria, Edward VII and King George V, and First Nations people allowing for the settlement of Canadian territory. The last of the treaties, Treaty 11, was signed in 1921 after oil was discovered in near Fort Norman, in the Northwest Territories.

First Nations which signed treaties still hold the documents to be the founding relationship between them and Canada through the Crown.

Spence’s hunger strike has drawn nation-wide support and triggered several solidarity actions from as far away as Cairo, Egypt and London, England. It has also dovetailed with the Idle No More rallies that have been sweeping the country since last week in the form of rallies and highway blockades.

Spence and her community burst onto the national consciousness last fall after Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency over a housing crisis. Images of families in shacks and tents living in the northern Ontario community flashed across televisions and across social media from coast to coast.

The Attawapiskat housing crisis triggered an outpouring of sympathy and created a political crisis for the Conservative government which responded by accusing Spence’s band council of financial incompetence.

In a move later labelled as “unreasonable” by the Federal Court, Duncan removed Spence’s council’s authority over band finances and imposed a third-party manager to run Attawapiskat’s affairs.

As the political fallout was nearing its peak, Harper, with Atleo sitting next to him in the prime minister’s Parliament Hill office, announced the Crown-First Nations gathering.

The gathering was heralded as “historic” at the time, but many First Nations leaders, including Atleo, now say that it produced no results. While Harper claimed a “new day” had dawned in the relationship between Canada and First Nations, many chiefs say the Conservative government continued to push ahead with legislation impacting Aboriginal and treaty rights without consultation.

The Harper government’s recently passed omnibus Bill C-45 included sections that changed the Indian Act and weakened regulations on waterways which First Nations leaders say impacts their rights.

The Idle No More grassroots movement began as a response to Bill C-45, but it has since taken on the broader issue of Indigenous rights. The movement continues to pick up steam and people from across the country are planning to converge in Ottawa this week for a large rally Friday.

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17 thoughts on “Harper unlikely to meet hunger-striking Attawapiskat chief's request for meeting

  1. Harper and his Government will suffer the Consequences of hurting and destroying a very large number of lives and if they hurts Mother Earth even more. The Creator works in many ways and it has been showing with all the Natural Disasters worldwide. He is thinking of money while us Native people are thinking about Mother Earth,our lives,our younger generations lives and theor children lives. Its not only going to affect us but it will destroy all of Canadas people.


  3. FIPA is an international treaty which allows foreign companies to sue Canada and it’s people in tribunals if our governments, citizens, or First Nations people do anything to counter its growing interests, including common sense environmental protections and job creation efforts.

    The only thing protecting Canada’s waterways and ecosystem is our treaties ever since Stephen Harper removed the protection of 2.5 million rivers and lakes Dec 5th, and legally exited the Kyoto Protocol Dec 15th.

    But due to the unconstitutional passing of the FIPA treaty, Canada has introduced a
    loophole to allow foreign countries such as China who recently acquired Nexen to violate our treaties. And since we have no treaties signed with those foreign countries, we have no jurisdiction to enforce ours, which lies solely with the Crown.

  4. Harper will never be man enough to meet with Atleo man to man honestly with integrity and courage. Harper is a coward and racist in my opinion. Our native people deserve a Paul Martin to help them join a modern Canadian mind set. I will do what I can to help. I’m noty a racist ignorant of history.

  5. Lets take it to the queen if harper wants to hide in his house. That who we signed the deal with in the first place. The Canadian government is a third party to the queen. The government is just buying time for the governor general to sign it then it goes to the queen. Lets beat them to the punch.

  6. I visited Victoria Island in Ottawa a week ago, there is a beautiful feeling there, knowing Chief Spence was right there in the teepee , standing strong for her beliefs … it was emotional . she is not alone .. the whole world is watching now to see what kind of Dictator is actually running this country .. no loner free, no longer a nice place to live… but with our voices and actions this can change , demand his resignation !!

  7. Its about time aboriginals go beyond their borders nd take thiz matter to the united nations nd the crown involved cause canada’s government has always abused us in their systems of governance.

  8. I think as many Canadians as possible should take the time to meet with her to let her know that Harper is not Canada. I’ll take the time. Will you?

    1. Anyone know how to reach her? First time I can be in Ottawa is the 29th. I’d love to meet with her around noon. I’ll be bringing tobacco ties.

  9. I have to agree with George and Darryl. One must ask how can you dialogue with someone who won’t speak to you, or comes to you with predetermined solutions in hand?

  10. the nation is up in arms with this government & their lies
    robo calls vets etc etc could be more support for Idle no more

    1. John Duncan was one of the ridings in dispute everyone i spoke with says no way should he have won! So really in truth he should be making no decisions regarding the people of First Nations.. Chief Spence shows what a true leader is made of.

  11. It’s a sad day in Canada when a so called “leader” lets his people suffer… Shame on you Harper…

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