OTTAWA -- Cross Lake elder Raymond Robinson made a plea for tolerance and acceptance of aboriginal people and the issues they face, as he ended his six-week-long liquid-diet protest Thursday.
"It is with mixed emotions, a lot of stress, joy, jubilation, that I make the statement today that my journey, my hunger strike ends today," Robinson said.
He appeared at a press conference Thursday morning without fellow faster, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who was under observation in hospital as she, too, prepared to end her fast.
Robinson said he tried to see a doctor, but when he arrived at the emergency room, the nurse who first asked him "almost ignorant, almost racist" questions, including asking why he was even there.
"Her tone of voice, how she reacted, wasn't very comforting," Robinson said. So he left.
Spence and Robinson's fasting and the Idle No More protests that have swept the country in recent weeks have unearthed a clear divide in Canada between First Nations people and non-First Nations people, and racism and mistrust on both sides has flooded into the open.
Robinson begged for an end to that, and said he risked his health over the last six weeks hoping for a day when Canada and First Nations have the 50-50 nation-to-nation partnership envisioned when the treaties were signed.
"That's all we ever wanted from the start," he said. "Fifty-fifty. Nothing more, nothing less."
Instead, he said, the government took everything from his people, forced them into residential schools where their language and culture was stamped out. Robinson attended three residential schools.
He said he finds it hard to believe in the year 2013 he still feels like an outcast on his own land.
"Is there something wrong with my colour that you don't like? Is my heart, the blood flowing in my veins different than yours?"
He said he doesn't see colour or race when he looks at others and wishes others would give him and other First Nations people the same respect.
Robinson's first meal other than herbal tea and broth since Dec. 12 was a bowl of watered-down oatmeal.
Both Spence and Robinson agreed to give up their protest after negotiations with the Assembly of First Nations and both the Liberal and NDP parties in Ottawa yielded 13 demands they all agree to continue to pursue. That includes a first ministers meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Governor General and premiers along with First Nations leaders. Other demands include a solution to the housing crisis facing First Nations, a plan to share resource revenues, and consent from First Nations on any legislation which affects them.
Spence did speak later Thursday at a ceremony signing the document, after she was released from hospital.
She urged chiefs to unite behind the cause, and stay united no matter what the government does to try and divide them. "There you go, chiefs, you take over and I'll be part of the audience some times, so I'll be watching you guys.
"It's time to really stay together no matter what hardship that we go through, and no matter what the government intends to do to us to divide us. Always remember that we're here together and we're here for our people, especially the youth."
AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo returned to work Thursday after an absence due to illness. A meeting is supposed to take place between him and Harper in the coming days or weeks to follow up on pledges made at the Jan. 11 meeting in Ottawa.
Atleo, who turned 46 during his brief leave, urged the federal government to take advantage of the opportunity created by the Idle No More movement, which has seen thousands of First Nations take to the streets.
-- with files from The Canadian Press
MANITOBA aboriginal leaders say they are not divided with the Assembly of First Nations, but have some questions for National Chief Shawn Atleo.
Chiefs from across Manitoba, as well as some from Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories, have wrapped up a special meeting in Winnipeg.
Derek Nepinak, the head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said many chiefs want to ask Atleo why he agreed earlier this month to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper without the Governor General also attending.
Nepinak said chiefs from the region are planning a special meeting on treaty rights in March and want Atleo to attend.
Nepinak said some chiefs are also considering setting up a new national group to deal specifically with treaty issues. He said the Assembly of First Nations has recognized it does not speak for treaties.
-- The Canadian Press