THUNDER BAY – “Treaties are Nation to Nation agreements recognized by Supreme Court of Canada cases and international law, but still the Harper government will not commit to any Treaty based discussions with First Nations,” states Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Stan Louttit. The Chiefs of Mushkegowuk Council are united in their support of fellow Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation.
In a statement issued by the Council, they state, “Chief Spence has commenced a hunger strike in Ottawa protesting the Harper government’s lack of respect for Treaties and the unilateral passing of legislation directly impacting First Nations. The Government of Canada is currently in the process of passing Bill C45, an omnibus bill that includes changes to the Indian Act as well as legislation affecting water and fisheries, areas that directly impact First Nations”.
The Grand Chief adds, “Attawapiskat and the other Mushkegowuk First Nations are part of Treaty Number 9 or the James Bay Treaty. This Treaty was signed in 1905 and 1906 between the governments of Canada, Ontario and the Peoples of far northern Ontario. It recognizes the continued usage of all Cree lands for hunting, fishing and trapping “as in the days of yore. Today, Canada and Ontario consider all lands outside of an ‘Indian Reserve’ as government or crown land. The Mushkegowuk Chiefs see this as a far cry from the intentions of Treaty”.
“When is the Prime Minister and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs going to wake up?” questioned Grand Chief Louttit. “Canada continues to ignore the Treaties, as well as the provisions of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, both of which have been endorsed by Canada. Canada’s actions are unfair, paternalistic and extremely disrespectful of First Nations. This is why you will continue to see actions taken by First Nation leaders such as Chief Spence and others who are sick and tired of unilateral actions and decision making by government on matters that directly impact their People and communities.”
The Council states, “The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs has boasted about conducting 5,000 consultations with First Nations since 2010. That may sound like an impressive number but most of these so called ‘consultations’ are done in the generic government way of ‘comment by such and such a date if you want your concerns considered’ approach. The Mushkegowuk Chiefs feel that it is time to have serious and productive dialogue, not more exchanges of letters that lead nowhere. Many First Nations have developed their own processes for meaningful consultation which have largely been ignored by the Harper government”.
Chief Kim Rainville of the Missanabie Cree First Nation expresses his concern for the health and well-being of his colleague Chief Spence and had this to say “I am concerned for Chief Spence’s
health. The winter temperatures are dropping and the cold weather is upon us. I am going to visit with Chief Spence this week and encourage her to seek shelter in a more comfortable location. However, we cannot lose sight of the cause why Chief Spence is doing this. First Nations have Treaty and constitutionally recognized rights and the government is ignoring this. The sooner we get to the table to discuss these important jurisdictional issues, the better things will be for all of us.”
The hunger strike action by Chief Spence is gaining momentum across the country as various First Nation leaders take action in their territories to express their dissatisfaction with the actions taken by the Prime Minister and to show support and solidarity for Chief Spence. A number of Chiefs are travelling to Ottawa this weekend for a series of meetings and a press conference on Friday, December 14/12.
There are reports that Minister John Duncan has offered to meet with Chief Spence, but there is no comment on the demand from Chief Spence to the Prime Minister for a meeting.