Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper and protesting Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence will sit down next week at a meeting native leaders say is "a good first step."
Harper, on Friday morning, announced he and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan would attend a "working meeting" with First Nations leaders next Friday to continue "ongoing dialogue" about the Crown-First Nation treaty relationship, aboriginal rights, and economic development.
Harper left it up to the Assembly of First Nations to choose which native leaders ought to attend and Spence, who on Friday began the 25th day of what she's calling a hunger strike, expects to be among those leaders who will meet Harper.
Spence also said she'll continue to consume only water, tea and fish broth and remain in a teepee on an island in the Ottawa River near the Parliament Buildings here until the meeting begins next Friday.
She started her protest demanding that First Nations leaders meet for as long as two weeks with Harper and Governor General David Johnston. As it turns out, the meeting will last for part of a day and will not include Johnston.
Harper's decision to meet comes a day after the Assembly of First Nations invited Harper to a meeting of native leaders on Jan. 24.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo declined interview requests Friday but issued a statement welcoming Harper's decision.
The AFN did not say which leaders would attend next Friday's meeting or if it planned to go ahead with the Jan. 24 meeting.
Alvin Fiddler, the deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents northern Ontario First Nations, said the meeting next week is "a good first step" but, speaking to reporters here, cautioned, "it won't take just one meeting to address what is broken. We will hold the prime minister's feet to the fire."
Meanwhile, it appears protests and blockades that have popped up around the country over the last month in support of Spence and the so-called "Idle No More" movement will continue. An Idle No More protest was expected to close a U.S.-Canada border crossing in Cornwall, ON Friday and another protest was planned to close a Canada-US bridge in Sarnia, ON for an hour on Saturday.
"People have the right in our country to demonstrate and express their points of view peacefully as long as they obey the law," Harper said Friday at an event in Oakville, ON "But I think the Canadian population expects everyone will obey the law in holding such protests."