Canada natives block Harper's office, threaten unrest

Fri Jan 11, 2013 6:24pm EST
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By David Ljunggren and Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Aboriginal protesters blocked the main entrance to a building where Canada's prime minister was preparing to meet some native leaders on Friday, highlighting a deep divide within the country's First Nations on how to push Ottawa to heed their demands.

The noisy blockade, which lasted about an hour, ended just before Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his aides met with about 20 native chiefs, even as other leaders opted to boycott the session.

Chiefs have warned that the Idle No More aboriginal protest movement is prepared to bring the economy to its knees unless Ottawa addresses the poor living conditions and high jobless rates facing many of Canada's 1.2 million natives.

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

The meeting was hastily arranged under pressure from an Ontario chief who says she has been subsiding only on liquids for a month. It took place in the Langevin Block, a building near Parliament in central Ottawa where the prime minister and his staff work.

Outside in the freezing rain, demonstrators in traditional feathered headgear shouted, waved burning tapers, banged drums and brandished banners with slogans such as "Treaty rights not greedy whites" and "The natives are restless."

Until midday on Friday, it was uncertain if the meeting would go ahead, with many native leaders urging a boycott and others saying it was important to talk to the government.

"Harper, if you want our lands, our native land, meaning everyone of us, over my dead body, Harper, you're going to do this," said Raymond Robinson, a Cree from Manitoba.   Continued...

First Nations protesters march towards Parliament Hill before the start of a meeting between chiefs and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa January 11, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie