Manitoba chiefs offer support for Spence as fast enters sixth week
Lenny Carpenter/Wawatay News
Going into 40 days of her sacred fast, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence said her spirits were lifted after a recent meeting with Manitoba chiefs who expressed their support and commitment to her and Elder Raymond Robinson.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak and Southern Chiefs Organization Inc. Grand Chief Murray Clearsky met with Spence on Jan. 18.
Nepinak represents more than 60 First Nations while Clearsky represents 33 First Nations communities in Manitoba.
Both grand chiefs boycotted the Jan. 11 meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and 20 chiefs from across Canada, as the meeting did not meet Spence’s criteria of having both Harper and Governor General David Johnston present. Spence said she would not end her hunger strike until both Harper and Johnston agreed to meet with First Nations leaders across Canada.
“The Manitoba chiefs have shown true leadership and see the importance of unity in order to bring our international, constitutionally protected rights to the forefront,” Spence said in a Jan. 18 press release. “We need to regain trust with this current government but need a willing partner to build this volatile relationship.”
First Nations in northern Ontario have also expressed support for Spence, including NAN, Grand Council of Treaty #3, and Mushkegowuk.
Robinson, an Elder and pipe carrier from Cross Lake First Nation in Manitoba, has been fasting with Spence, joining her on Victoria Island on Dec. 31. He last ate 10 hours after Spence had her last meal before her fast began on Dec. 11.
Spence has lost more than 30 pounds since she began her fast and has low blood pressure.
Despite Harper’s commitment to continue discussions with First Nation leaders about the treaty relationship, Spence remains committed to the fast.
Spence has been criticized for the legitimacy of her fast and her management of her community’s finances.
Spence consumes a cup of fish broth a day and traditional medicine tea, but dismissed the criticism since she gains minimal nutrition and the broth has cultural meaning. She said in the old days, Aboriginal people consumed fish broth during “hard times.”
“You have to see it to believe it, so come and visit me, talk to me,” Spence said. “You’ll see what I’m going through.”
On Jan. 7, a letter from a finance firm that audited Attawapiskat’s finances was released to media. The letter indicated that the First Nation had lacked “proper documentation” on 80 per cent of transactions between April 1, 2005 to Nov. 30, 2011.
Spence began her term as chief in 2010, though she previously served as the deputy chief.
Spence questioned the timing of the release of the letter, as it was days before the Jan. 11 meeting, calling it a “witch hunt.” She said federal government officials promised her that the letter would not be used “against” the First Nation.
“We heard the recommendations from the audit (that) explained where the lack was and what needs to be improved,” she said. “It’s good to see where we need to improve and we’ll comply with the recommendation.”
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