Canada meets key aboriginal demand amid blockades

Sat Jan 5, 2013 6:34pm EST
 
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By Randall Palmer and Louise Egan

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's prime minister will meet with native leaders next week to discuss social and economic issues, an olive branch to an angry aboriginal movement that has blockaded rail lines and threatened to close Canada's borders with the United States.

Stephen Harper made no mention of the aboriginal protests in a statement on Friday announcing the January 11 meeting.

But the meeting is a key demand from native Chief Theresa Spence, who has been on a hunger strike for 25 days on an island within sight of the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa.

Spence's spokesman Danny Metatawabin told reporters, on the snowy ground outside her traditional teepee, that she would continue her hunger strike until she was satisfied with the outcome of next week's meeting.

Spence's hunger strike has been one of the most visible signs of a protest movement called Idle No More, which had announced plans for blockades on Saturday all along the U.S.-Canadian border.

It was not clear if these blockades would now be called off, or if there would be any disruptions at the border crossings between the two big trading partners.

The movement is not centrally organized, and Metatawabin said he would not tell others what to do. Several hours after Harper's announcement, the Idle No More website still had a call up for blockades on Saturday.

Demonstrators blocked a Canadian National Railway Co line in Sarnia, Ontario, for about two weeks until Wednesday, and there were shorter blockades elsewhere in the country, including one that delayed passenger trains between Montreal and Toronto for several hours on Sunday.   Continued...

 
Native protesters gather as they take part in an Idle No More march at the Peace Arch border crossing between Canada and the U.S. in Surrey, British Columbia January 5, 2013. The protest movement continues after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced he would meet with a delegation of First Nations chiefs, including Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence next week. His meeting, which will discuss social and economic issues, is an olive branch to an aboriginal movement that has blockaded rail lines and threatened to close Canada's borders with the U.S.. REUTERS/Andy Clark