Chiefs, New Democratic Party Leader, Urge Theresa Spence to End Hunger Strike
Fellow chiefs and the head of a major political party are urging Theresa Spence to stop her fast in the wake of the January 11 meetings between aboriginal leaders, the Prime Minister and the Governor General.
On Saturday, the 33rd day of Spence’s liquids-only fast, Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, said she had achieved her goal of getting top government leaders to take notice of aboriginals’ plight and enjoined her to start eating again.
"I would hope that she would, for her health,” the former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations told CBC on the radio show The House on Saturday January 12. “I think she has succeeded. The Governor General responded by saying, I will meet. Maybe not the way she wanted it. The prime minister said he was going to meet with First Nations. I think both have been done."
Coon Come was part of a group of chiefs who met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on January 11, along with current AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, and 18 other leaders. Governor General David Johnston did not attend the meeting with Harper but hosted a ceremonial meeting with 100 or more chiefs afterward. Spence attended the second meeting but not the first, and remained adamant that the two government officials meet with First Nations leaders together, not in separate meetings. Although several chiefs boycotted the Harper meeting along with Spence, those who did attend felt that progress had been made.
Stan Louttit, grand chief of the Mushkegowuk Council, is also trying to get Spence to end her protest.
“I ... told her, 'Look, you've made your point. You've won this victory. You've made Canadians aware,” he said to the Canadian Press. “You have done good for your people."
On Sunday the head of the New Democratic Party, Thomas Mulcair, joined the chiefs in calling for Spence to return to solid food.
“I would sincerely call upon Chief Spence to realize that there has been a step in the right direction, to try and see now if we can keep putting pressure on the government to follow through,” Mulcair, head of the country's official Opposition to Harper's Conservative government, told CTV News. “The government seems to be moving, so I think that the best thing to do would be to step back from that now.”
Also on Sunday the Harper government announced it would put $330.8 million over two years into building and renovating water and wastewater infrastructure on reserves. The money would also help develop a “long-term strategy to improve water quality in First Nation communities,” the ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND) said in a press release.
Many of the problems on reserves center around squalid housing conditions and a lack of access to potable water, among many other issues.
"Our government is committed to addressing water and wastewater issues on reserve to ensure that First Nations communities have access to safe drinking water," Duncan said in the AAND statement. "That is why we are taking concrete action to support First Nations in operating their water and wastewater systems on reserve."