Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Politicians visit fasting chief, call for action

Spence asks native leaders to rise

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OTTAWA -- A visibly weak Chief Theresa Spence made a brief appearance Sunday on Day 20 of her fast as a parade of politicians and protesters turned up the volume to demand action from the Harper government on treaty issues.

Through a spokesman, the chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation said she was "deeply humbled" by the support she's received from aboriginals and non-aboriginals in her appeal for a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston.

A demonstration in support of her hunger strike took place at Toronto's Eaton Centre, where protesters crowded a section of the mall in a loud but peaceful gathering.

A smaller crowd backing Spence assembled in Calgary outside Harper's constituency office. The chief acknowledged the outpouring from members of the Idle No More movement, but called for other First Nations leaders to also step up.

"This is a call to arms and a call to action in the most peaceful and respective way that reflects our natural laws as indigenous nations," she said in the statement. "First Nations leadership need to take charge and control of the situation on behalf of the grassroots movement. We need to reignite that nation-to-nation relationship based on our inherent and constitutionally protected rights as a sovereign nation. We are demanding our rightful place back, here in our homelands that we all call Canada."

Spence invited MPs and senators to visit during a two-hour period Sunday at her teepee on an island in the frozen Ottawa River looking up at Parliament Hill.

Former prime minister Joe Clark, the highest-profile visitor, made an appearance Saturday, meeting with Spence and issuing a statement that said honest conversation can often lead to common ground.

Other politicians, both Opposition NDP and Liberals, expressed similar sentiments, but also expressed concern for Spence's health.

"She's a very determined woman and she's heard the message from others that she's done what people think she needed to do, but she noted that the prime minister has not talked to anyone or put out a message that he is willing to meet with leaders, and that's all she's asking for," said New Democrat MP Paul Dewar, among 16 of his party's politicians to be invited into the teepee.

Dewar and fellow New Democrat Craig Scott said they were worried about Spence's condition.

"She's very peaceful in her demeanour, but that goes along with being quite weak now," Scott said.

Spence stopped eating solid food on Dec. 11. Concern is strong enough that some have urged her to give up and let opposition politicians take up the fight -- something Scott said tried to convey to her.

"I spoke directly to her and said: 'You know, you've done more than anybody could expect one person to do, and there's no reason you and you alone should have to carry this burden.' And she said: 'It's my burden to carry.' "

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2012 A7

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