OTTAWA – Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence says she won’t attend Friday’s meetings between First Nations leaders and the federal government because Gov. Gen. David Johnston has said he won’t be there.
Spence — engaged in a protest since Dec. 11, subsisting solely on fish broth and tea in an effort to secure Friday’s meeting with Johnston and Prime Minister Stephen Harper — is insisting on the Queen’s representative in Canada being present.
“We have sent a letter to Buckingham Palace, requesting that Queen Elizabeth II send forth her representative, which is the Governor General of Canada,” Spence said in a statement.
“I will not be attending Friday’s meeting with the prime minister, as the Governor General’s attendance is integral when discussing Inherent and treaty rights.”
A spokesperson for Johnston has said he would not attend the sessions on Friday because they are working meetings with government on policy issues.
Spence said Johnston needs to attend the meetings because the talks are supposed to focus on the treaty rights that were established by the Royal Proclamation of 1793.
Spence says Canada is “not acting in good faith,” as evidenced by the federal government’s release of an audit that shows a lack of documentation for tens of millions of dollars in spending by Spence’s northern Ontario reserve.
“This is a time of crisis and this government of the day is not taking indigenous peoples concerns seriously,” Spence’s spokesman, Danny Metatawabin, said in the release.
“Canada should take notice and act honourably as their courts have directed the government on many occasions.”
First Nations frustration has been manifesting across Canada for weeks in the form of the Idle No More protest movement, which seeks to push back against the Conservatives for threatening aboriginal treaty rights as set out in the Constitution.
The protests, ranging from temporary rail blockades and border closures to shopping-mall flash mobs, have drawn inspiration from Spence and her protest, which is playing out on a small island in the Ottawa River, not far from Parliament Hill.
When Harper agreed last week to hold a meeting, Spence said she would attend, but insisted she wouldn’t decide whether to end her protest until after the meetings were concluded.
At a news conference Tuesday, Harper acknowledged the challenges facing many First Nations communities, but he said they also represent great opportunities.
“I know that in many aboriginal communities … the challenges are very great, but the potential is very great as well,” he said.
“We do have, for the first time in our history, economic development on a large scale occurring near where many aboriginal people live. We have a shortage of labour and lots of opportunity, and we want to make sure that those opportunities are available for aboriginal people and prosperity is available for them as we move forward.”
The government will continue to push forward with “legislation and other means,” he added.