Search for solution to Theresa Spence’s protest reaches critical point

The Attawapiskat chief is examining ways to return to her community, sources say

by Heather Scoffield

OTTAWA – Discussions to resolve Chief Theresa Spence’s six-week-long hunger protest have intensified during the past 48 hours and have reached a critical point, say sources close to the talks.

The Attawapiskat chief, who has been subsisting on fish broth and medicinal tea since Dec. 11, is examining ways to return to her community and nurse herself back to health, multiple sources have told The Canadian Press.

A delegation that includes interim Liberal leader Bob Rae and northern Ontario deputy grand chief Alvin Fiddler has been working closely with Spence to hash out a dignified solution.

Rae brings with him a reputation as a firm but approachable and respectful mediator in tricky situations such as the Burnt Church aboriginal fishing dispute in 2000. Fiddler is from the same region as Spence and is known as a practical, sharp thinker.

Members of the delegation, along with Spence and a couple of her closest confidantes, are working the phone lines to craft a declaration of the chief’s concerns that would be signed by supporters. They also hope to design a ceremony to mark what her protest has accomplished.

And they want to define a process that will allow Spence a recovery.

The sources, who don’t want to be quoted on the state of the discussions because they are at a fragile stage, say they hope for a resolution soon — perhaps even by Thursday.

That’s the day Spence and the Assembly of First Nations had asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov.-Gen. David Johnston to hold a broad meeting with the country’s chiefs, partly to commemorate the first anniversary of last year’s Crown-First Nation Gathering, which was supposed to have reset relations between the two sides.

Harper and Johnston have not agreed to that meeting, but several chiefs are expected to come to Ottawa that day anyway, Ontario Grand Chief Stan Beardy said earlier this week.

Spence has been engaged in her protest for six full weeks, setting up camp on an island in the Ottawa River, not far from Parliament Hill, in an effort to convince the country’s top leaders to take First Nations concerns seriously.

There’s a growing list of politicians and First Nations leaders anxious to see Spence bring her protest to an end. They have been careful, however, to leave the final decision up to her.

Instead, they are telling Spence how they count her victories: greater national awareness of First Nations issues; a meeting between the AFN, Stephen Harper and several cabinet ministers; and a commitment to modernize treaties and aboriginal rights, with negotiations between chiefs and the top levels of government.

They also say Spence’s resolve helped galvanize thousands of protesters across the country under the Idle No More banner.

Spence’s protest also attracted unwanted attention, too: much publicity surrounded a government-ordered audit of her band’s finances that showed a lack of proper documentation for about $100 million in funding.

Rae, the Assembly of First Nations, Spence’s spokesman and Fiddler would not comment Tuesday when contacted by The Canadian Press.

Women chiefs have been instrumental in keeping Spence’s spirits up, say insiders.

Indeed, a group of Manitoba women chiefs has just wrapped up a visit to Spence, and has issued a call for female chiefs to come to Ottawa on Thursday to support the Cree leader.

“We share Chief Spence’s deep concern for the future of our nations and echo Chief Spence’s call for restoring our relationship with the Crown to reflect the original spirit and intent of the treaties,” said a statement from Chief Betsy Kennedy of War Lake First Nation.

While Spence’s protest may be forging a bond among First Nations women leaders, her refusal to budge over the past few weeks has divided the Assembly of First Nations and prompted questions about the leadership of National Chief Shawn Atleo.

Atleo attended the meeting with Harper on Jan. 11 even though the Governor General was not included in the meeting, as Spence had demanded. She boycotted the meeting, as did many chiefs from Manitoba, Ontario and other parts of the country.

Atleo has been on sick leave ever since, but issued a statement on Monday saying he would be back at work with a united AFN later this week.




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Search for solution to Theresa Spence’s protest reaches critical point

  1. NEXT!

  2. Seems to me it was a diversion and a publicity stunt. Therefore, the solution is for the media to ignore it. Within a few days she will drive her Cadillac SUV back up north.

    You might turn your attention to that audit, however.

  3. Did Starving Spence finally realize she has become Canada’s biggest joke? It’s no wonder other chiefs have been trying to end her stupid stunt. I saw her on CTV on Sunday…nothing wrong with that woman…very robust and healthy…as for the 30 pound loss…laughed myself silly. Now she wants all chiefs to go to Ottawa…to do what…bow down to her and then maybe carry her off her island to great applause? Another demand…to Mulcair and Rae…wants their support…and on it goes…daily demands from a fool trying to deflect attention from her audit…Go Home Spence…and STFU

  4. This so-called ‘hunger strike’ has been a farce since it began. If you
    read the facebook page devoted to her you would think she’s on death’s
    doorstep, about to give up her life for her cause. I doubt anything
    could be farther from the truth. Instead of meeting with her, the PM
    should be meeting with the ministers that oversee the provincial police
    to ensure the INM protesters that are illegally blocking roads are
    arrested.

  5. She appears to be grossly obese – this hunger strike is probably of benefit to her overall health.

    • The fasting has probably upset her metabolism, putting her body into starvation mode, so she will probably gain the weight back again, plus some, even if she eats only a moderate diet.

  6. I don’t understand the posts on this message board. The gov basically just set it up so they can sell off all rights to our water and lands to foreign investment without anyone’s say so. NO discussion basically. All those lakes and rivers that were protect now aren’t. Allowing mines and logging etc on lands including native lands so the gov will make billions in royalties…but the natives who live on it and have to deal with the oil spills and open mines in their back yard have no say nor will they be getting any of those jobs or money from the billions it will generate, and all canadians also suffer the consequences of the various enviro disasters it could ( and frequently does) cause, so foreign companies and the gov can make some cash…and somehow Spence is the bad guy for trying to bring attention to this? What’s wrong with you people? Wouldn’t you rather know what is actually going on instead of the Gov just forcing things down your throats or doing things behind your back? Unbelievable.

    • There’s a lot you don’t understand.

      Resource industries are the biggest employers of indians from isolated reserves, plus they provide training and even literacy education to indians who would not ordinarily be able to get jobs.

      With all the whining about unemployment on reserves you’d think people would rejoice at the opportunities to improve things.

  7. Where is your humanity all of you critics? I am so tired of people who feel it is their right to personalize comments from the comfort of their armchairs. Treat others as you want to be treated. I doubt any of you have the stomach to take the insulting and ignorant criticisms that you think you have the right to dish out. I doubt any of you could spend one night in that teepee fasting let alone 40 plus days. Furthermore, get educated. Go work in Attawapiskat for a year teaching, nursing, social work….. Here’s a thought, go work at the mine so you can really see things for yourself. Until you’re prepared to get your hands dirty and stand on the front line to become truly informed on the subjects, silence yourself!

    • Spence is hardly ‘fasting’.

      And I’ve worked in mines, in northern Manitoba, side by side with indians among other ethno-culturo-linguistic groups.

      And the indians who had jobs came to work every day on time, worked as diligently as anyone else there, drank at the one hotel pub with the other workers, and were (as a group) neither better nor worse than anyone else.

      And I’ve been a teacher in northern Manitoba as well, though not on a reserve, and taught many indian children, some of whom were diligent and some of whom didn’t care… much like the other children in the school.

  8. And just so you know, I am not Native and yes, I have myself worked and lived in Attawapiskat and Moose Factory for about 20yrs. and loved every moment of my time in the far North of this province. Not an easy life by any means, but a truly rewarding one!!

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