Angry Canadian aboriginals divided ahead of Harper meeting

Fri Jan 11, 2013 11:53am EST
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* Aboriginal leaders set to meet prime minister on Friday

* Many of Canada's 1.2 million aboriginals live in poverty

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Deep splits emerged in the ranks of Canada's aboriginal movement on Friday, casting doubt on a planned meeting between chiefs and Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss a series of native grievances.

Native leaders say the growing aboriginal Idle No More protest movement is prepared to block highways and prevent resource development unless Ottawa does more to tackle the poor living conditions and high jobless rates facing many of Canada's 1.2 million aboriginals.

Harper, under pressure from an Ontario native leader on a month-long hunger strike in Ottawa, had agreed to meet senior chiefs in his office at 1 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Friday.

Hours before the session was scheduled to begin, Teresa Spence, the hunger-striking leader, was insisting that the meeting include more natives and Governor-General David Johnston, the official representative of Queen Elizabeth, Canada's head of state. Johnston has already said he will not attend, saying it is not his place to get involved in policy discussions.

Spence said she would not attend the meeting unless Johnston participates.

Native groups complain successive Canadian governments have ignored treaties that aboriginals signed with British settlers and explorers hundreds of years ago, treaties they say granted them significant rights over their territory.   Continued...