First Nation chiefs from across Canada support hunger strike
Chiefs across northern Ontario are expressing their support for Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence after she embarked on a hunger strike in Ottawa.
Spence said she will not stop her hunger strike until the prime minister and a representative of Queen Elizabeth II agree to meet with First Nations leaders to involve them in the legislative process that affects First Nations across Canada. She said she is “willing to die” unless her demands are met. She began the hunger strike on Dec. 11.
Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief Stan Louttit said he and the seven other Mushkegowuk First Nations chiefs are united in their support of Spence. Mushkegowuk represents eight Cree communities in northeastern Ontario, including Attawapiskat.
Louttit said the communities signed Treaty 9 with the federal government in 1905 and 1906, and the Treaty recognized the continued usage of all Cree lands for hunting, fishing and trapping “as in the days of yore.” Yet the Harper government recently passed Bill C-45, an omnibus bill that includes changes to the Indian Act and legislation affecting water and fisheries, areas which impact First Nations’ ability to exercise treaty rights, Louttit said.
“Canada continues to ignore the treaties as well as the provisions of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, both of which have been endorsed by Canada,” Louttit said in a Dec. 13 media release. “Canada’s actions are unfair, paternalistic and extremely disrespectful.”
Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and Matawa chiefs have also expressed support for Spence.
“NAN acknowledges the efforts and struggles of (Spence)…and others across the country joining in a hunger strike and fasts,” NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno said at a press conference on Dec. 14 in Thunder Bay. “Canada and Ontario, as our treaty partners, must fairly address the need for First Nations to be participants in determining our future.”
Chief Celia Echum of Ginoogaming First Nation, a Matawa community, said she was angered to hear of the strike.
“I was angry that someone had to go to that level to get attention, to be listened to, and for people to notice what’s going on here,” she said. “She has to suffer for us, so we’re trying to set up to support her movement.”
Grand Council Treaty #3, which represents 26 communities in northwestern Ontario and two in Manitoba, also acknowledged and announced support for the efforts of Spence.
Grand Chief Warren White said he and several chiefs met with Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan and Kenora MP Greg Rickford in August, where they wanted to establish a treaty table in an attempt to “reconcile outstanding treaty relationship issues.”
“Since then, there has been no response or willingness to engage on these matters which we consider to be of great importance,” White said in a statement. “It is shameful that in order to get the attention of the federal government to deal honourably with outstanding issues…(Spence) is compelled to go on a hunger strike.”
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