Hunger strike pressures Canada PM, aboriginal protests spread

Fri Dec 28, 2012 3:18pm EST
 
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By Louise Egan

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Canadian aboriginal chief in the third week of a hunger strike is urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to "open his heart" and meet with native leaders angered by his policies as small impromptu protests spread beyond Canada's borders.

Chief Theresa Spence from the remote northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat has been fasting since December 11 and has vowed to continue until Harper commits to talks on a litany of complaints, including new legislation that she says will harm native lands.

"He's a person with a heart but he needs to open his heart. I'm sure he has faith in the Creator himself and for him to delay this, it's very disrespectful, I feel, to not even meet with us," she said in an interview in Ottawa.

Spence is at the center of an unprecedented Canadian aboriginal protest movement called "Idle No More" that began with four women in the province of Saskatchewan raising awareness about the Conservative government's budget legislation passed earlier this month.

The legislation, which has also been criticized by opposition politicians, reduces environmental protections for lakes and rivers and makes it easier to sell reserve lands.

Aided by Facebook and Twitter, their protest proliferated and is now drawing comparisons to the "Occupy Wall Street" movement.

"Flash mob" protests with traditional dancing and drumming have erupted in dozens of shopping malls across North America. There have been rallies, marches and highway blockades by aboriginal groups across Canada and supporters have emerged from as far away as New Zealand and the Middle East.

The campaign aims to draw attention to dismal conditions faced by many of the country's 1.2 million natives, including poverty, unsafe drinking water, inadequate housing, addiction and high suicide rates.   Continued...

 
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence (L) pauses while speaking with journalists about her hunger strike with elder Danny Metatawabin in a teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa December 27, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie