Elder Raymond Robinson ended his hunger strike on April 9 after nearly a week without food or water, as his health started to deteriorate significantly.
The Grand Elder from Cross Lake First Nation in Manitoba just two months ago ended a liquids-only fast alongside Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence that lasted nearly six weeks during December and January. On this latest hunger strike he was protesting the fact that the federal government is forcing First Nation bands to sign routine funding agreements whose wording has been changed in ways that entail tacit approval of controversial budget legislation. This year’s version of the funding agreements, which are renewed periodically, contain wording that requires First Nations to support and abide by laws that include the unpopular budget bills C-38 and C-45, as well as any “subsequent amendments or replacements” of legislation. It raised fears among aboriginals that these agreements could then be used to override any previous deals between First Nations and the government.
The government has been threatening the aboriginals with loss of funding if they do not sign the altered agreements, even though the alterations were handed down without consultation or negotiation. Robinson had started fasting on Wednesday April 3, foregoing both food and water. Doctors had started saying he had not long to live if he kept it up.
"I would expect him to be pretty frail at this point, and a day or two away from his death," Dr. Blake Woodside, medical director of the program for eating disorders at Toronto General Hospital, told Postmedia News on April 8.
Robinson had met with Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND) Bernard Valcourt on Friday April 5 for an hour and a half.
“The meeting was frank but positive and focused on the need to work together to make progress on the treaty relationship and living conditions on reserve, particularly in the areas of education, housing and economic development,” the aboriginal affairs ministry said in a statement. “The Minister acknowledged Grand Elder Robinson’s commitment to raising awareness of First Nation issues and encouraged him to consume food and water, stressing that real progress will only happen when the parties work together.”
Valcourt also promised to visit Cross Lake over the summer.
For his part Robinson had called the meeting inconclusive and vowed to hold out until Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to sit down for a meaningful dialogue with aboriginals. Harper had met with First Nations leaders in January after Robinson, Spence and a third person had subsisted on a liquids-only diet for nearly six weeks.
“I’ve heard it all before,” he said of Valcourt’s assurances on working together, according to Postmedia News.
On Monday April 8 Robinson had said he would continue to refuse food and water, but after meeting with prominent First Nations leaders, including Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, Robinson stood down on Tuesday, announcing it via Twitter. Atleo said that he had reminded Robinson that spiritual actions, while encouraged, had boundaries, the Canadian Press reported.