Aboriginal leaders to launch national protest

OTTAWA – Aboriginal leaders are set to march through the streets of Ottawa today after meeting with a chief who is on a hunger-strike.

The leaders are taking part in a national protest march and rally organized by the movement dubbed Idle No More, which opposes the Harper government’s omnibus budget legislation, Bill C-45.

On the eve of the protest, Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence repeated her call for a meeting with the prime minister and Canada’s governor general.

Spence, who started a hunger strike this month, issued an open letter yesterday to Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston.

In it, she urges them to embark on a national discussion about the state of poverty among First Nations communities.

Spence says many communities face impoverished conditions, despite assurances from the government that progress is being made to alleviate poverty.

“Land and natural resources continue to be reaped by the federal and provincial governments through taxation of corporate resource companies with little compensation to First Nations for use of our traditional territories,” Spence wrote.

“Trilateral discussions and financial action plans must be committed to in order to alleviate the existing state of poverty.”

Spence said this week she has been growing weaker after living mainly on water and fish broth since Dec 11.

A spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan voiced frustration Thursday at being unable to speak with Spence about her concerns.

“Since she began her hunger strike the minister has expressed his concern for Chief Spence’s health and he has indicated several times his willingness to meet with or talk to her,” said Jason MacDonald.

“Unfortunately he has been unable to reach the Chief, and her colleagues have been unwilling or unable to share an alternate phone number where she might be reached.”

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo and up to five other chiefs are expected to take part in today’s march and rally, along with a number of opposition politicians.

There will also be protests in a number of other Canadian cities.

Protests and marches have been held country-wide in recent weeks to demand the Conservative government reverse legislation that First Nations say will affect treaties and traditional land use.

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