First Nations chief rejects minister's call to end hunger strike

The federal health minister says an aboriginal chief fasting in the hopes of securing a meeting with the prime minister should stop and instead meet with the aboriginal affairs minister.

Theresa Spence declines health minister's request to meet with aboriginal affairs minister

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence rejected a request from the federal health minister to end her hunger strike and meet with the minister of aboriginal affairs. (Chris Wattie /Reuters)

One of the two aboriginal MPs in the Conservative cabinet has called on Chief Theresa Spence to abandon her fast aimed at securing a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who is Inuk, joined other federal officials in asking Spence to accept a meeting with Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan and end the campaign that has seen the chief go more than two weeks without solid food.

"I would encourage her to stop and meet with Minister Duncan and that's the best way to address her issues," Aglukkaq said Friday.

Duncan is the one responsible for the portfolio and that's why he's the right person to meet, Aglukkaq said

Spence rejected Aglukkaq's recommendation because she believes Duncan isn't the one who should be speaking on a nation-to-nation basis.

"When our ancestors made treaties with the British Crown to allow the Queen's subjects to live in our territories, it was for as long as the sun shines, the waters flow and the grass grows," Spence said in a statement.

"The Crown's only legal access to our lands is contingent upon the fulfilment of the promises made in the negotiations of treaty."

Spence, who is the chief of a remote reserve in Northern Ontario, stopped eating solid food on Dec. 11 in an effort to secure a meeting between First Nations leaders, the prime minister and Governor General over the treaty relationship.

Government serious about improvements

Duncan has offered several times to speak with her and to form a working group, but the minister has been rebuffed at every turn.

The government points to a meeting it held last January with First Nations leaders as proof it is serious about improving the relationship and notes it has spent millions on aboriginal health, housing and education.

But aboriginal leaders say they are being left out of the discussion the Harper government is having about how best to develop Canada's lucrative natural resources.

A series of protests over the last two weeks under the banner of Idle No More were in part spurred by the recent budget bill which removed federal oversight over waterways without consulting aboriginal groups who depend on them for water and food.

'Canada is considered a First World country and our peoples are living in extreme poverty and substandard living conditions'—Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence

Meanwhile, bands are concerned that a lack of training and education will see them shut out of resource development projects that could provide economic stimulus to many struggling communities.

In the statement released Friday, Spence said she remains hopeful that Harper or Gov. Gen. David Johnston will accept her request.

"Canada is considered a First World country and our peoples are living in extreme poverty and substandard living conditions," she said.

"As nations, we held up our end of the treaty, yet Canada continues to only pay lip service to our relationship."