Jan. 11 meeting between Assembly of First Nations delegation and Prime Minister Stephen Harper
By Markham Hislop
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has agreed to meet Assembly of First Nations leaders after a hunger strike by an Ontario chief and the rise of the grassroots protest movement, Idle No More.
The meeting was brokered by the Assembly of First Nations and National Chief Shawn Atleo, and will take place Jan. 11 with a delegation of First Nations leaders and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan.
The Assembly of First Nations released a letter Thursday calling for such a meeting on Jan. 24, the one year anniversary of the Crown-First Nations Gathering with Prime Minister Harper and government leaders.
“It’s time for the Crown to honour its relationship and responsibilities to First Nations starting with the recognition and affirmation of our inherent and Treaty rights. It’s time for all First Nations citizens and their leaders to drive solutions,” Atleo wrote in the letter.
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Harper noted in his statement that the previous meeting had resulted in commitments to making progress in a number of areas, including improving relationships and strong partnerships between Canada and First Nations, building fully accountable governance structures, education and opportunity, self-sufficient communities, economic development, and culture and language.
“The Government and First Nations committed at the Gathering to maintaining the relationship through an ongoing dialogue that outlines clear goals and measures of progress and success. While some progress has been made, there is more that must be done to improve outcomes for First Nations communities across Canada,” Harper said.
According to the Prime Minister, the working meeting will focus on the treaty relationship and aboriginal rights, and economic development.
“The Government of Canada and First Nations have an enduring historic relationship based on mutual respect, friendship and support. The Government of Canada is committed to strengthening this relationship,” he said.
Harper has been under increasing pressure over the past several weeks because of the hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario. Chief Spence has subsisted on fish broth since Dec. 25 and is in the twenty-fifth day of the hunger strike.
“It is a matter of conscience for the meeting to take place. If Canada wants to continue to be considered a first world state, then leadership should act the part,” said her spokesperson Danny Metatawabin, in a statement released Friday morning before the Prime Minister’s announcement.
The hunger strike by Chief Spence was a rallying point for Idle No More, which began in Saskatchewan with four First Nations lawyers, but quickly spread via social media across Canada and even internationally. Dozens of rallies, protest marches and flash mob dances were organized by First Nations members independent of the AFN and other First Nations leadership over the past three weeks. Idle No More called for a meeting between Harper and Chief Spence, and criticized the federal omnibus Bill C-45 for modifying the Indian Act to allow the sale of reserve land.