January 12, 2013 / 1:27 AM / in 5 years

Canadian native chief will continue hunger strike

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.

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

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.

But the aboriginal movement is far from united, and it includes chiefs who say they are prepared to damage the economy unless Ottawa acts, and others who are ready to keep talking.

Native groups complain that Canada has ignored treaties signed with British settlers and explorers that they say granted them significant rights over their territory.

They want Ottawa to rescind parts of recent legislation that reduce environmental protection for lakes and rivers. One law makes it easier to lease lands on the reserves where many natives live, a change some natives see as a way to spur development and other eye with suspicion.

There have been many small demonstrations, including short-lived blockades of railway lines and major intersections. Idle No more plans a day of action on January 28.

Reporting by Janet Guttsman; Editing by Jackie Frank

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