A crowd gathered at Winnipeg’s airport Friday to welcome back a First Nations elder who just completed a six-week hunger strike in Ottawa.
Raymond Robinson fasted for six weeks with Ontario Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence. The pair embarked on the hunger strike in December to bring attention to a number of First Nation issues.
Ultimately, Spence acheived her goal, a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston.
Both ended their hunger strikes together on Jan. 24., and after 43 days without food, Robinson arrived in Winnipeg where he was greeted by his wife and children.
Dozens of supporters cheered when Robinson arrived and walked down the airport’s stairs, and an honour-song was sung when he arrived at the bottom.
Upon his arrival Robinson thanked everyone for supporting him throughout the process.
Sheila Robinson hadn’t seen her husband for three weeks when he arrived.
"(It was) hard, very hard, but I had faith in him. I knew he would do it," she said.
That faith helped Robinson continue on his strike.
"My family kept me going – thinking about my wife, my children, my grandchildren," he said. "I didn’t want to let them down."
His son Baptiste said on the outside his dad appeared strong, being a support for Spence, but he said he began to see his father deteriorate when he was behind closed doors.
After three weeks of fasting, Robinson couldn’t stand for days. Still, he didn’t quit.
"There were a few times I wanted to quit. My body was starting to hurt," said Robinson. "My spirit and my mind was willing, but my body was saying, you know, I think it's time to quit."
He described the strike as a roller-coaster of emotions and said he often wondered if his hunger strike was helping to bringing attention to First Nations issues.
"I did this for all of us. I had to make a stand," he said.
He began the fast after learning about Bill C-45, which included legislation that would see lakes and rivers taken off of a protected list. First Nations people have argued the change will impact their treaty rights.
Robinson said the strike was for all Canadians, not just aboriginal people. He said he wants to ensure lands remain safe and treaties remain protected.
Dennis White Bird, a representative of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs, said Robinson was a warrior and hero.
"We hold Raymond in the same esteem as our elders who signed treaties – our ancestors who signed treaties," said White Bird.
Despite that, Robinson remains humble.
"I’ve got no special powers. I’ve got no special knowledge. I’m just a simple man from the bush," said Robinson. He added what he would like to see is for Canadians to work together to make things better for aboriginal people.