Friday, January 4, 2013

Harper to meet with Chief Spence, First Nations

The Toronto Star:

Ottawa — Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he will meet with a delegation of First Nations leaders to discuss treaty and aboriginal rights, and economic development.

“I will be participating in a working meeting with a delegation of First Nations leaders coordinated by the Assembly of First Nations on Jan. 11,” Harper said in a statement Friday.

The prime minister has been under mounting pressure to sit down with native groups as a result of a hunger strike by Theresa Spence, chief of the struggling northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat.

Harper’s statement also referred to Crown-First Nations Gathering of Jan. 24, 2012, where the federal government and First Nations outlined areas to be worked on.

“While some progress has been made, there is more that must be done to improve outcomes for First Nations communities across Canada,” the prime minister stated.

Harper said the government and First Nations leaders need to continue working on a set goals agreed to last year, including:

Building effective, appropriate, transparent and fully accountable governance structures;

Empowering success of individuals through access to education and opportunity;

Enabling strong, sustainable, and self-sufficient communities;

Creating conditions to accelerate economic development opportunities and maximize benefits for all Canadians;

Respecting the role of First Nations’ culture and language in our history and future.

Harper’s announcement Friday of the Jan. 11 meeting came as New Democrat MP Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay), National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo and other native leaders were holding a press conference to discuss Spence’s hunger strike.

Meanwhile, members of the Kingsclear First Nation are staging an Idle No More protest along a busy highway near Fredericton and say they’ll stay until the prime minister meets with Spence.

About three dozen people stood along Highway 102 at Kingsclear Friday holding signs in opposition to the federal government’s recently passed omnibus budget legislation, Bill C45.

Kingsclear Chief Gabriel Atwin says it’s important that Harper respects treaty rights and meets with Spence right away because she is now into day 25 of a hunger strike.

First Nations leaders had initially proposed a Jan. 24 meeting with Harper and Governor-General David Johnson, but Spence said her failing health means she can’t wait that long for assurances that her concerns about treaty rights will be addressed.

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