Canadian native chief will continue hunger strike

Sat Jan 12, 2013 12:35pm EST
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TORONTO (Reuters) - A Canadian aboriginal chief will continue her hunger strike despite meetings on Friday between native leaders and government officials, as a Canada-wide protest movement gets ready for more demonstrations and a day of action later this month.

A spokesman said chief Theresa Spence would continue her strike in an effort to force new meetings to discuss Indian rights.

Spence, from the remote northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat, has been surviving on a diet of tea and fish soup since early December as one of the most visible faces of a protest movement called Idle No More that wants more money from resource development and better living conditions.

She refused to participate in a meeting on Friday with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other native leaders, arguing that Governor General David Johnston should also participate.

Johnston, who hosted a later ceremonial meeting with native leaders including Spence, is the representative of Queen Elizabeth in Canada.

"The meeting with the Governor General ... was not a triumph, it was simply a time to send a strong message to the powers that be," Spence's spokesman Danny Metatawabin said in an email.

"The hunger strike continues."

Harper agreed on Friday to pay more attention to native demands and to work more closely with them. But he made no promise about their demands.

Many of Canada's 1.2 million natives live on reserves with unsafe drinking water, inadequate housing, addiction and high suicide rates.   Continued...

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence pauses after making a statement on Victoria Island before the start of a meeting between chiefs and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa January 11, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie