Prime Minister Stephen Harper is set to meet with Aboriginal leaders Friday, but Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence may not be there if the Governor General is absent.
Leadership in the Attawapiskat community has recently come under fire over allegations of financial mismanagement, and tensions between Spence’s supporters and media have arisen in recent days.
A Global News crew that went to the community to report on living conditions was threatened with arrest Tuesday when Acting Chief Christine Kataquapit asked the two reporters to leave, saying those were Spence’s orders. Spokespeople for Spence later denied any such order.
Band police escorted the two to their hotel and the airport, where they were put on a flight for Timmins, Ontario.
Reporters have had less access than some others to Spence—who is carrying out a hunger strike in a tepee on Turtle Island near Parliament Hill—and have been accused of misrepresenting her message.
With Parliament on break over the holidays, the Idle New More movement has become the largest national news story in the country, dominating headlines as the standoff continues.
Movement Gains Support
Until now, media coverage has been largely positive toward the movement and supporters have welcomed the coverage.
That coverage has seen the movement grow in scope, with participants as far away as Europe showing support. The United Nations weighed in on the issue Wednesday, calling for meaningful talks between First Nations and the government.
“Both the government of Canada and First Nations must take full advantage of this opportunity to rebuild relationships in a true spirit of good faith and partnership,” James Anaya, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, said in a press release.
On Wednesday, over 20 groups, mainly aboriginal, issued a joint statement supporting Spence and Idle No More.
“It is tragic that a hunger strike and Canada-wide protests are necessary in order for indigenous peoples to bring attention to violations of their dignity, treaties, and human rights,” reads the statement. Amnesty International was among the signatories.
Spence has been a central figure in those protests, on a hunger strike of sorts that has seen her refuse solid food, surviving on fish broth for nearly a month.
But her credibility took a hit after leaked documents from a forensic audit revealed Attawapiskat did not properly account for spending, breaking previous pledges to follow proper accounting standards.
The Deloitte accounting firm’s audit revealed a lack of due diligence for $104 million of band council expenditures. Spence has said the leaked audit was a distraction meant to discredit her.
GG Should be at Meeting: Spence
With Harper’s meeting with First Nations leaders just around the corner, Spence has said she will not be attending if Governor General David Johnston is not there. Pressuring Harper to meet with her was the reason Spence initially began her hunger strike.
“We have sent a letter to Buckingham Palace and requesting that Queen Elizabeth II send forth her representative which is the Governor General of Canada,” Spence said in a release.
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.
— Chief Theresa Spence
“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.”
While Canadians largely view the Governor General as a figurehead, it was on behalf of the Queen that treaties were negotiated, making the Crown the primary party that signed those agreements, rather than the government of Canada.
Johnston has said it is a working meeting and a matter of government. Spence’s statement holds that Canada’s legitimacy resides on its treaties with First Nations.
Spence and the broader Idle No More movement are calling for a complete overhaul of the Canada-First Nations relationship toward a strict adherence to the spirit of the original treaties the Crown signed with First Nations.
An Angus Reid poll found that 55 percent of Canadians think the upcoming meeting will be unsuccessful.
Economic Disruptions Threatened
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN), which the Idle No More founders have said does not represent their movement, has delayed announcing its hopes for the meeting. A press conference set for Wednesday to outline the AFN’s expectations was cancelled.
Many Idle No More protesters have criticized First Nations leaders for their lack of progress.
While Chief Shawn Atleo won the leadership of the AFN with solid support, he has faced strong criticism for too-friendly ties with the federal government. Many Idle No More protesters have criticized First Nations leaders for their lack of progress.
The protest has included rail and road blockades and flash mobs joining in traditional Native American round dances inside Walmart stores.
As support grows, the movement has extended beyond Canada with protests taking place in several countries. Aboriginal leaders have threatened broader economic disruptions if progress is not made.
Meanwhile, the federal court ruled Tuesday that up to a million Métis and non-status Indians qualify as Indians under Section 91(24) of the British North America Act. It is widely expected the government will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
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