OTTAWA – Manitoba Chiefs will not attend a meet Friday with Prime Minister Stephen Harper unless Governor General David Johnston also attends.
The chiefs made their declaration at a news conference in Ottawa this morning.
"We’re not here to make requests," said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak. "We are here to demand an end to 140 years of colonial rule."
Nepinak said other regions are likely to follow suit throughout the day.
Johnston had declined an invitation to the meeting saying it was a working meeting on public policy and therefore it was not appropriate for him to attend. However in the midst of the press conference today came word he had agreed at least to have a ceremonial meeting with chiefs at Rideau Hall following the Friday meeting.
Initially the Manitoba Chiefs were of the belief Johnston also agreed to meet with chiefs at Rideau Hall tonight, however that is not the case. The meeting is Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET.
It is not yet clear if that will be enough for the Manitoba chiefs to change their stance on attending the meeting. They retreated to a meeting room shortly after word of Johnston’s offer came.
The meeting Friday with Harper comes after weeks of protests by aboriginals across the country who are demanding a better relationship with Ottawa and more rights, including a financial share of the resource revenues coming from oil, gas and mineral development on their ancestral lands.
A hunger strike by a northern Ontario chief and a Manitoba elder and a few others was also launched demanding a meeting with Harper and Johnston and the repealing of the two omnibus budget implementation bills passed in the last year. Chiefs and protesters argue the bills tread too much into aboriginal lives without proper consultation. The main complaints surround changes to the Indian Act as well as a reduction in environmental regulations and rules surrounding things such as fisheries and environmental reviews of development projects.
Nepinak said if the government does not take the steps to start righting these wrongs it will regret it.
"We are demanding he agree with us."
He said the number of protests and protesters in the Idle No More movement has shown the strength and resilience of the aboriginal people and that it will continue.
"(Idle No More) has the people and the numbers that can bring the Canadian economy to its knees," he said.
Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Murray Clearsky said it shouldn’t have to take people starving themselves for the government to agree to meet with aboriginals. He said the result of the governments’ actions isn’t just affecting First Nations either.
"It’s going to be so damn polluted none of us are going to survive," he said.
Currently the meeting with Harper and a select number of chiefs is scheduled to be held in a government office building Friday afternoon. However the chiefs said they will not attend there, that Harper has to come to them at the downtown Ottawa hotel where they are meeting.
Nepinak said this meeting is not for Harper to set the agenda and control the purpose, but for First Nations to do so.
"This meeting is on our terms."