Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence, fasting for the past month in demand of a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston, has said she will not attend a meeting unless a representative of the Crown is present.
On Wednesday she pulled out of the meeting that Harper had agreed to have with First Nations leaders, saying that Johnston’s presence was essential and that she had asked Queen Elizabeth II to direct him to participate. She also called for the meeting to be canceled if he didn't participate and vowed to continue her hunger strike. Her aides told Aboriginal Peoples Television Network that she had prepared for death—drawing up a will, instructions for the care of her daughters and signing papers directing non-intervention if her health should deteriorate.
"We have sent a letter to Buckingham Palace," Spence said in a statement quoted by media reports. "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."
Spence stopped eating solid food on December 11, 2012, and said she would continue fasting until after a meeting between government and Crown representatives with First Nations leaders. On January 4, 2013, Harper announced he would meet with First Nations leadership from around the country on January 11.
Coordinated by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the meeting was originally going to include Spence. But on Wednesday January 9 an AFN press conference announcing the talking points was abruptly postponed until Thursday. When asked if Spence was included on the attendance list, an AFN spokesperson replied that Indian Country Today Media Network should contact “her or her spokesperson Danny Metatawabin directly.”
Spence began what has been termed a hunger strike on December 11, a day after what has come to be known as the Idle No More movement sprouted across Canada in the form of civil actions including blockades of roads and railways, round dances in shopping malls, and rallies. The chief has been surviving on fish broth and medicinal tea, aides say.
Idle No More has since caught the international eye, with everyone from activists as far away as Europe and New Zealand, to United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya himself calling for Canada’s Conservative government to do cultivate a working relationship with its aboriginal peoples.
“I am encouraged by reports that Prime Minister Steven Harper has agreed to meet with First Nations Chiefs and leadership on 11 January 2013 to discuss issues related to aboriginal and treaty rights as well as economic development,” Anaya said in a statement on January 8, before Spence’s withdrawal from the meeting. “Both the Government of Canada and First Nations representatives must take full advantage of this opportunity to rebuild relationships in a true spirit of good faith and partnership.”
First Nations have long considered their relationship with the Crown to be almost more important than the one with the Canadian government, holding that treaties struck nation-to-nation with the British monarchy during colonial times must be honored as such today. More specifically, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, issued by King George III, acknowledged that Indigenous Peoples have a right to the lands they occupied and promised to “not molest” them as well as protect them, according to CBC News’s description. Elements of the proclamation are contained in Article 35 of the country’s Constitution Act of 1982 and have been upheld by several rulings issued by the Supreme Court of Canada, CBC News said.
Last year when AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo met with Prince Charles upon the latter’s visit to Canada, the chief asked him to send a message back to the Queen, requesting a meeting. The Prince, touring Canada to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee—the celebration of the 60th anniversary of her reign—agreed to do so. Last week Atleo had included Johnston in his invitation for the January meeting as well. A Johnston spokesperson reiterated to CTV News on Wednesday that since it's a working meeting about policy issues, he was not planning to attend.