Hunger-striking chief calls for action amidst health concerns
Time for Harper to 'show some leadership and to extend a hand,' NDP says
On First Nations Chief Theresa Spence's 20th day of her politically motivated hunger strike, Canadians and politicians answered her plea for solidarity for her cause to secure a meeting between First Nations leaders, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the Governor General.
The Attawapiskat chief sent Friday a public plea to make Sunday a day of solidarity, asking Canadians to stage protests across the country and petitioning politicians to meet with her in Ottawa.
A number of politicians started making their way to Victoria Island, Ottawa, where the chief is residing in a teepee, including a 15-member NDP delegation, spokeswoman Valérie Dufour told CBC News on Sunday.
Originally, 17 NDP MPs were expected, Cheryl Maloney, who self-identified as a Spence supporter and is the president of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association, told CBC News. However, two expected MPs experienced weather-related delays.
NDP sends MPs to meet with chief
The group, which was scheduled to meet with Spence at 2 p.m. ET Sunday, was to be led by deputy leader Megan Leslie and Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus.
Chief Spence's expected visitors:
- Carolyn Bennett, Liberal MP, Aboriginal Affairs critic.
- Marc Garneau, Liberal MP.
- Megan Leslie, NDP MP
- Charlie Angus, NDP MP.
- Robert Chisholm, NDP MP.
- Hoang Mai, NDP MP.
- Andrew Cash, NDP MP.
- Dan Harris, NDP MP.
- Raymond Côté, NDP MP.
- Ruth Ellen Brosseau, NDP MP.
- François Lapointe, NDP MP.
- Craig Scott, NDP MP.
- Paul Dewar, NDP MP.
- Hélène Laverdière, NDP MP.
- Jamie Nicholls, NDP MP.
- Mathieu Ravignat, NDP MP.
- Wayne Marston, NDP MP.
- Denis Blanchette, NDP MP.
- Carol Hughes, NDP MP.
- Senator Lillian Dyck, Liberal.
- Senator Jim Munson, Liberal.
- Senator, Mac Harb, Liberal
The NDP has been following Spence's hunger strike very closely, Dufour said. Since the chief started her hunger strike on Dec. 11, she has subsisted on fish broth and tea. Her condition has been worsening, according to a statement released Friday.
"Her condition continues to weaken every hour," read the statement.
On Dec. 18, party leader Thomas Mulcair wrote a letter to Harper asking him to meet with Spence."Please act swiftly to avoid a personal tragedy for Chief Spence," he wrote.
Now, 20 days into Spence's hunger strike, the NDP is "beginning to be very worried," said Dufour. "It's dangerous for her…We're all a bit afraid because she said she's even willing to die for it."
Dufour said Harper should meet with First Nations leaders as soon as possible because it is the only way to settle the matter, adding that Spence isn't asking for much by requesting a meeting with the prime minister.
"Now it's time for Stephen Harper to show some leadership and to extend a hand and to meet with the leader," she said.
Spence supporter Maloney, who forwarded the chief's latest statement, said she was not authorized to speak about Spence's condition. She said it is getting harder for the chief to host visitors and conduct interviews. The chief rested in advance of Sunday's meeting, which was to include 15 NDP MPs, two Liberal MPs and three Liberal senators.
"[We] haven’t heard anything from any Conservatives at all," she said.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan has offered several times to speak with Spence and form a working group, but she rejected his proposals because she believes he is not the one who should be speaking on a nation-to-nation basis.
Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, an Inuk who is one of two aboriginal MPs in the Conservative cabinet, urged Spence to stop fasting and accept a meeting with Duncan. "That's the best way to address her issues," Aglukkaq said.
Spence chose to continue her fast, hoping to secure a meeting with Harper and the Governor General instead.
Former PM visits Spence
On Saturday afternoon, former prime minister Joe Clark visited Spence, following her open invitation.
In a statement after his meeting, Clark said that "there is a general concern that First Nations–Canada relations are headed in a dangerous direction."
People no longer active in political life may have to help support "the resumption of productive discussions," he said.
"Chief Spence expressed a humble and achievable vision — one which I believe all Canadians can embrace," he said, adding honest dialogue and mutual commitment can carry-out her vision.
Idle No More rallies staged across Canada
Meanwhile, Canadians held rallies on Sunday in a show of support for the chief.
At least half a dozen events were planned on Sunday across Canada, said CBC's Shannon Martin.
The Idle No More movement — which has hosted several demonstrations in past weeks and is loosely tied to Spence's protest — staged a rally in Toronto, Ont., in response to the chief's call for action. Participants gathered near the Eaton Centre for a "round dance flash mob," according to the Toronto chapter's Twitter account.
In Alberta, about 400 protesters gathered outside Harper's Calgary office, reported CBC's Devin Heroux. People performed a round dance, carried signs and played drums as part of an Idle No More flash mob.
Various rallies and demonstrations supporting Spence also took place yesterday in Oklahoma, Washington, Cincinnati, and Regina — where a four-day hunger strike is underway, said Martin.
With files from the Canadian Press