Attawapiskat waits on Chief Theresa Spence's return

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has yet to return home to a community still plagued with housing issues and overshadowed by an unflattering audit report.

First Nation chief's hunger strike helped spur rallies and demonstrations

A teepee in Attawapiskat stands vacant as Idle No More protests continued across Canada on Monday. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Chief Theresa Spence has yet to return to her home in Attawapiskat — a community still plagued with housing issues and overshadowed by an unflattering audit report.

Spence consumed only fish broth and tea for 44 days while camped near Parliament Hill, as she tried to force a meeting that would bring together the Governor General, the prime minister and First Nations leaders.

While the outcome wasn't exactly what she wanted, Spence ended her protest last week after aboriginal leaders and opposition politicians agreed to fight for a long list of priorities.

Attawapiskat resident Danny Metatawabin, who acted as Spence's spokesman during her hunger strike, said she is taking a week to recover before returning home.

"Chief Spence is still continuing to take a rest, as per doctor’s orders, and just to make sure everything is OK," he said.

"When you don’t eat solid food for over six weeks, [you] have to be weaned into eating solid foods again … [as a] precaution."

‘United a nation’

The Attawapiskat chief’s hunger strike has been closely tied to the rise of the Idle No More movement.

But there were no rallies or marches in the streets of the First Nation on Monday, as there were in other parts of the country. Outside the community's grocery store, most people had little to say about another day of demonstrations that were taking place across Canada.

There are signs, however, that the Idle No More movement has captured the imagination of some.

Outside the band office stands a two-storey-high teepee. The walls are lined with paper signs that say "respect our treaties" and "Idle No More."

Resident Denise Okimaw said the teepee was built to show support for Chief Spence during her hunger protest.

Okimaw said the Idle No More gatherings elsewhere make her feel like she is part of something — maybe even part of changes that could improve living conditions in Attawapiskat.

"[There are] a lot of challenges, and it's going to face a lot of challenges," she said. "I'm hoping it's going to continue."

Metatawabin said that while Spence's protest became a focal point for many supporters, the rallies across the country on Monday showed the movement has its own momentum and will continue beyond her stand near Parliament Hill.

"We united a nation, that's what we did," he said. "Because we were frustrated by government [and] a lack of progress on behalf of First Nations leaders."

In the meantime, Attawapiskat residents await the return of their leader.

"I can't say exactly where she is at," Metatawabin said.