Native women, AFN, renew calls on Harper, Governor General, to meet with Spence - Macleans.ca

Native women, AFN, renew calls on Harper, Governor General, to meet with Spence

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OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper is fostering hatred of aboriginals across the country by failing to condemn racist reactions to the Idle No More movement, says a women’s group.

The accusation came Friday as Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs announced that the Assembly of First Nations had approved a resolution renewing calls for a meeting with Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston on Jan. 24.

There are strong and growing racial undertones to much of the reaction seen so far to protests over aboriginal treaty rights, says Ellen Gabriel of the Indigenous Women of Turtle Island.

“We just have to look at the Oka crisis in 1990,” she said.

“The same things that (were happening then), and comments about indigenous people, are happening once again. That’s the underlying current that we see.”

The nearly three-month-long Oka crisis resulted from a conflict between Mohawk people in Kanesatake and the town of Oka, Que. One person died as a result of the land claim dispute.

Gabriel, who is from Kanesatake, made the comments after she and Leanne Simpson delivered a letter to Harper, pleading with him and Gov. Gen. David Johnston to meet with Theresa Spence.

The chief of the community of Attawapiskat in northern Ontario continued a hunger protest Friday, that began on Dec. 11, to persuade Harper and Johnston to meet together with First Nations leaders to talk about the plight of aboriginal people.

Chiefs from Ontario who have been among her most ardent supporters begged Spence this week to give up her protest.

And on Friday, Grand Chief Murray Clearsky of the Manitoba Southern Chiefs Organization met with Spence in her teepee on Victoria Island in the Ottawa River, where he also urged her to start eating solid food again.

“The message was, in a kind and good way, to reconsider,” said Clearsky.

“She made her point, with what she accomplished.”

Spence did not respond directly to the plea, said Clearsky.

A simple gesture from the prime minister to meet with Spence might end her liquids-only protest, said Gabriel.

“We appeal to their sense of humanity to at least commit today to a meeting,” she said.

“It’s very important at this point in time, considering Chief Spence’s health, considering the amount of racism that we’re seeing against indigenous peoples … that this is an urgent meeting that needs to happen.”

Spence last week boycotted a meeting of some First Nations leaders with Harper because the Governor General was not in attendance. She did attend a ceremonial meeting last Friday evening with Johnston, but later dismissed the gathering through her spokesman as a waste of time.

Demonstrations organized by the Idle No More movement have been held this week across the country. While those protests have caused some traffic disruptions and angst among commuters, none have been violent.

But several chiefs have expressed concerns that some Idle No More supporters could lash out, should Spence or her co-protester Raymond Robinson die from their hunger protests.

The prime minister’s office has so far said that it would entertain a meeting among First Nations chiefs and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan on Jan. 24 or another date, but has not agreed to a gathering that would include Harper and the Governor General.

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