Hunger strike prompts Atleo to demand Harper meeting

The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations is calling for a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston.

Hunger strikes prompt Atleo to demand Harper meeting

10 years ago
Duration 1:54
At least two hunger strikes on First Nations has prompted the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations to demand a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston.

The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations is calling for a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston.

Shawn Atleo has written an open letter asking for the meeting in light of a hunger strike by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence.

Spence stopped eating seven days ago to protest what she sees as a lack of respect for treaty rights.

In his letter, Atleo said the Government of Canada has not upheld its responsibilities to First Nations. He is seeking an immediate commitment to a meeting from Johnston and Harper.

Atleo says First Nations communities are in crisis and need help, and they are trying to get somebody to listen.

"As Chief Spence was saying, you know, we need peace with Canada," he said Monday in Winnipeg.

"We need to see the treaties implemented. We need to see the deep poverty alleviated, and for people to have the dignity of clean drinking water, of proper homes."

Manitoba man also on hunger strike

Atleo says he also supports a similar hunger strike by Raymond Robinson, a 51-year-old elder from the Cross Lake First Nation in northern Manitoba.

Robinson, who has been fasting since Wednesday, says he is drawing attention to the plight of Canada's aboriginal people and to protest proposed federal legislation that First Nations people say violates their treaty rights.

"It speaks to the deep crisis that we are in, and we've been in for a long time in First Nations communities, and the calls for emergency measures for housing," Atleo said.

Both Spence and Robinson are demanding face-to-face meetings with Harper.

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus reportedly fasted on Thursday in support of Spence.

Idle No More

First Nations activists are gearing up for a week of rallies as a growing grassroots movement known as Idle No More continues to draw communities across the country together thanks to a powerful presence online.

Supporters say they are upset about the effects of the Harper government's policies on their communities. They want First Nations to be recognized as sovereign stakeholders in decisions affecting the country's land and resources.

"There are many examples of other countries moving towards sustainability, and we must demand sustainable development as well," says a manifesto published on the group's website,

"We believe in healthy, just, equitable and sustainable communities and have a vision and plan of how to build them."

The campaign was started by four women from Saskatchewan who were protesting against a number of bills before Parliament. They are particularly critical of Bill C-45, the government's omnibus budget legislation, which they say weakens environmental laws.

Two Idle No More events have already been held in Thunder Bay and in Sudbury, an Idle No More event is planned for Friday, December 21. Organizers are planning various ceremonies and a solidarity walk starting from the Sudbury Arena.

Aboriginal Affairs says it will meet with Spence

Jan O'Driscoll, a spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, said the department has made efforts to consult with aboriginal leaders. He said they continue work on pressing issues on reserves like education, clean drinking water and housing.

"While we've made significant strides, there is still work to be done," O'Driscoll said in an email.

"We'll continue to partner with First Nations to create the conditions for healthier, more self-sufficient communities."

O'Driscoll said Duncan has also tried to reach out to Attawapiskat's Spence.

The northern Ontario First Nation made international news last year for its poor housing conditions. Spence has promised to continue her hunger strike unless the Conservative government starts showing more respect to First Nations concerns and aboriginal treaties. She wants a meeting with the Crown, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and aboriginal leaders.

Duncan has offered to meet with Spence and have his parliamentary secretary tour the reserve to ensure it has what it needs for winter.

As for Idle No More, Duncan told a CBC reporter last week that the rallies are a result of social media.

"It's social media," Duncan said. "We'll just have to see where that goes."

With files from The Canadian Press