January 04, 2013

Harper to meet with chiefs

Harper agrees to meet with First Nations leaders after weeks of protests

By Jason Fekete and Tobi CohenPrime Minister Stephen Harper has agreed to meet with aboriginal leaders on Jan. 11 to discuss their ongoing treaty concerns and to soothe rising tensions.

Earlier this week, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo asked Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston to meet with chiefs on Jan. 24—the one-year anniversary of Harper’s summit in Ottawa with aboriginal leaders—to help end ongoing hunger strikes and address lingering treaty issues.

Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 11 in hopes of forcing Harper into talks with aboriginal leaders. Spence said a late-January gathering was not satisfactory and demanded on Thursday that the prime minister meet with her within 72 hours.

A spokesperson for Spence said Friday she will continue her hunger strike until the Jan. 11 meeting, which she is expected to attend.

After days of mounting tension and protests, Harper issued a written statement Friday confirming he is willing to see the aboriginal leaders next week.

“The government and First Nations committed at the (2012 Crown-First Nations) Gathering to maintaining the relationship through an ongoing dialogue that outlines clear goals and measures of progress and success. While some progress has been made, there is more that must be done to improve outcomes for First Nations communities across Canada,” Harper said. “It is in this spirit of ongoing dialogue that, together with (Aboriginal Affairs) Minister (John) Duncan, I will be participating in a working meeting with a delegation of First Nations leaders coordinated by the Assembly of First Nations on January 11, 2013. This working meeting will focus on two areas flowing from the Gathering: the treaty relationship and aboriginal rights, and economic development.”
Comment:  From what I know about politicians in general and Harper in particular, we can expect him to try weaseling out of this commitment. Already there are rumors that he may attend only the opening ceremony, then hand off the meeting to his ministers.

That isn't what the Indians want, of course. As sovereign nations, they expect Canada's head of state to meet their heads of state. Whether that'll happen or not remains to be seen.

For more on Idle No More, see Arguments Against Idle No More and Idle No More vs. Chiefs.

Below:  "Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence talks with her family as she continues her hunger strike in a teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa in this Dec. 25 file photo." (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

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