Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Elder joins Spence in hunger strike

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A Cross Lake elder who joined Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence on a hunger strike Dec. 12 travelled to Ottawa to join her in person Monday.

"We have been drawing strength from each other," Raymond Robinson said in Winnipeg en route to the nation's capital.

The Cross Lake elder said he's been keeping in touch with Spence since their hunger strike began. With the blessing of his wife, family and First Nation, Robinson decided to take his hunger strike to Ottawa as well.

"We are, more or less, joining forces," said the Cross Lake mental-health worker.

"To meet and pool our strengths from that and energize ourselves, it will be a powerful thing," said Robinson, who started his hunger strike 10 hours after the chief from Attawapiskat.

She went on a hunger strike to get Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston to meet one-on-one with First Nations leaders and promise to live up to Canada's and the Crown's treaty obligations.

Robinson, a residential school survivor, said he felt so betrayed by the prime minister he decided to join Spence on a hunger strike.

"On June 11, 2008, Harper stood in front of Parliament extending his hand to First Nations people of Canada saying, 'I am sorry for all the atrocities done to your people... I ask you to forgive me, to forgive us. Let's forge a new relationship,' " said Robinson.

That turned out to be just a "ploy," said Robinson. "Look what he did four years later."

Bill C-45, the recent omnibus budget bill, removes federal oversight over waterways without consulting aboriginal groups. Critics say it weakens environmental protections.

"It was done without consultation and without the input of First Nations people," said Cross Lake First Nation Chief Garrison Settee, who accompanied Robinson to Ottawa. "It's disrespectful of the First Nations people of Canada and a violation of our UN rights as indigenous people... This should not be tolerated."

The passage of Bill C-45 is "more ferocious and genocidal than what's been done to us in the past," said Robinson. "This is the final assault. (Harper) wants to take full control of our lives," said Robinson. "This is the reason I'm challenging him."

And it is a challenge, said Robinson after going three weeks without food.

"My ribs hurt, my stomach aches -- it's cramping up, I'm a little wheezy and can't be on my feet too long," he said. His 21-year-old son, Baptiste Robinson, went with him to Ottawa for support.

"I was a hunter, a fairly active person and always mobile," said the elder Robinson, who has been surviving on a diet of herbal tea. "My strength is depleted from a lack of proper nourishment."

The bitter cold is harder to take, too, said the outdoorsman Monday when it felt like -28 C with the windchill in Winnipeg.

"There's a pressure in my chest, heart and lungs," he said. "It's a feeling like I have this icy water flowing through my veins and I can't get warm," said Robinson. "There's a tingly, numb sensation up and down my legs and arms... I can't make a fist and sometimes I can't feel my arms until I move them around."

But if he gets up too quickly, the room spins, he said.

Robinson has seen a traditional healer and will get checked after joining Spence in Ottawa, he said.

"I'm not going to quit till we have what we're seeking from Harper, which is a fair, open dialogue with First Nation leadership across Canada," he said. "I'm not going to stop."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 2, 2013 A4

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