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Attawapiskat Chief Marks Her 10th Day On A Hunger Strike, Another First Nation Community Featured
December 20, 2012
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Theresa Spence - the Chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation - is now into the 10th day of her hunger strike in Ottawa.

And we're starting to hear concerns about her health. She is said to be weak, shaky and not well.

She gets dizzy when she walks around and barely has enough strength to leave the teepee she's been living in.

"I am able to walk around short distances. I don't have headaches, I am getting thirsty a lot, but my mind is still good," Spence told APTN, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

"Being around people, it helps me to talk and communicate."

Spence has vowed not to eat until the Prime Minister agrees to meet with her and other aboriginal leaders across Canada.

Since last Tuesday, she's had nothing but water twice a day (in the morning and evening), along with medicine tea and fish broth.

She's been living in a teepee on Victoria Island on the Ottawa River, near Parliament Hill - a teepee that now has a wood stove and blankets.

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Spence says she knows the RCMP are keeping an eye on her, but she says she won't let them take her away - even if she's close to dying.

"I got my helpers here to protect me. They are the ones who are going to look after me," she told APTN National News.

"I'll be here, I am not going anywhere. My ancestors are here, my drummers, the grassroots people are here."

Spence is calling on the federal government to show more respect for First Nations and their treaty rights, and do more to help communities that are in real crisis - everything from housing and poverty to health and education.

"There is too much pain, that pain has to go away," Spence said. "If not, the pain is going to get worse and things will get worse."

So far, the Prime Minister's Office has referred things to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs who says he's willing to meet with Spence.

Yesterday, Governor General David Johnston suggested it's up to the government to decide whether or not to meet with Spence.

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"What we have here is a very complex set of issues that primarily are matters of politics and therefore these are matters for elected governments to determine first and foremost," Johnston told CBC News Power & Politics.

"My heart goes out to Chief Spence as anyone would in that circumstance, and my greatest wish is that she would be home with her family for Christmas enjoying Christmas as we do with families," he said.

In spite of that, Spence says she's not giving up.

"I am not going to give up. I am here for my people, for our rights, the government needs to really open its heart," she told APTN.

Spence also called on Stephen Harper's wife, Laureen to convince her husband he should meet with the chiefs.

"This is about children, for our children to unite together, to walk together. We need Mrs. Harper to talk to her husband, tell him to set up that meeting," she said. "It's for the children. She has children and I have children."

Spence, who is 49, has raised both her daughter and granddaughter - who are both 13. She says they cried when she talked to them about the hunger strike.

She says she told them "If I am not going to be here, you are not going to be alone... There will be people looking after you, my partner, your sisters, my friends... and I am going to be there in my spirit with them every day."

Spence also has a teddy bear with her, which she has jokingly named "Harper".

"I sleep with him, he keeps me warm," she said. "My honey came here and spotted him and said, 'you are replacing me,' yes with Harper."

Spence's community of Attawapiskat in northern Ontario made headlines last year, because of the horrendous conditions people were living in - flimsy tents and shacks with no running water, just as winter set in.

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The Attawapiskat First Nation Last Year

The government sent in new modular homes and trailers to give 22 families decent housing, but others are still living in substandard conditions.

Ottawa also appointed an outside manager to oversee the community's affairs, but that was sharply criticized in August by the Federal Court, which called the move "unreasonable in all circumstances."

Of course, Attawapiskat isn't the only First Nation community that's suffering.

Today, cbc.ca has a feature on another - the Pikangikum First Nation in northern Ontario, about 28 hours north of Toronto.

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The Pikangikum First Nation reserve in northern Ontario

Unemployment there is 90 per cent. There's a severe housing shortage and most homes have no indoor toilets or running water.

Not good, when temperatures can drop to -40C.

On top of that, the school has been forced to close because there's not enough fuel to keep the generators going. Teachers have left for the time being.

Last year, mould problems forced the elementary school to close, so 700 children had to repeat a year.

Gas sniffing is also common among young people. Hunger can be a problem, as food is a lot more expensive than it is in southern Ontario.

And there are gravestones - a lot of them. In a community of about 2,400, more than 60 young people have committed suicide over the past ten years.

In fact, between 2006 and 2008, there were 16 suicides by hanging, some by children as young as 10 years old.

You can read more about the Pikangikum First Nation here.

All of this coincides with the Idle No Moremovement, a grassroots series of protests that have been happening across the country.

According to their website, more protests are planned tomorrow in Ottawa; Regina; Saskatoon; Edmonton; Whitehorse; London, Ontario; Thompson, Manitoba; Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia and solidarity rallies in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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Members of the Kahnawake Mohawk community block traffic today on a ramp to Montreal's Mercier Bridge as part of the Idle No More protests

The movement was started by four women in Saskatchewan, who say the Harper government's policies are hurting First Nations communities.

Protesters are critical of Bill C-45, the government's omnibus budget legislation, which they say weakens environmental laws.

They say First Nations should have a say in any decisions about Canada's land and resources and be recognized as sovereign people at the table.

Related stories

It's Been One Week Since Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence Started Her Hunger Strike For First Nations Rights

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence Says She's "Willing To Die" For A Meeting With Prime Minister Stephen Harper

The Latest From Attawapiskat

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