Politics
First Nations drama continues

The area on which Attawapiskat First Nations chief Theresa Spence is holding her hunger strike on Victoria Island in the Ottawa River next to Parliament Hill in Ottawa Jan 3, 2012 in Ottawa, ON.

Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY

DAVID AKIN | PARLIAMENTARY BUREAU CHIEF

OTTAWA - With literally hours to go until the big meeting Friday between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations leaders, a raft of details on both sides remain unsettled or unknown.

The Assembly of First Nations abruptly cancelled a press conference planned for Wednesday afternoon during which National Chief Shawn Atleo was to outline his goals and objectives for the meeting.

"First Nation planning discussions and dialogue continue today," Atleo said in a statement issued by his office. "It is essential that this important dialogue continues, and we will set out objectives for Friday's meeting at a press conference Thursday."

The AFN issued the cancellation notice about 20 minutes before it was to start. Atleo along with Saskatchewan Regional Chief Perry Bellegarde and British Columbia Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould were to address reporters in Ottawa. Atleo said Bellegarde and Wilson-Raybould are leading the AFN's preparatory work on treaties, lands and the economy.

When Harper announced the Jan. 11 meeting, he said it would be up to the AFN to decide which First Nations leaders would attend. So far, the AFN hasn't even said if Atleo will attend. The AFN said it hopes to announce its delegation list Thursday.

Protesting Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence initially said she would go to the meeting but then changed her mind after learning Gov. Gen. David Johnston won't be there.

Spence claims she hasn't eaten solid food in weeks to try to compel Harper and Johnston to meet with First Nations leaders. She said she believes Johnston should be there because he is the representative in Canada of the British Crown that negotiated the 18th-century treaties that set out the Crown-First Nations relationship.

Spence went on to say that she now thinks other First Nations leaders should boycott Friday's meeting unless Johnston shows up.

An AFN communications officer said the organization hadn't been officially notified of Spence's call for a boycott.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's Office has so far refused to provide details about the level of his participation at Friday's meeting.

Some social media networks and Native blogs were buzzing Tuesday night with information that Harper was only planning to attend Friday's so-called "working meeting" for 30 minutes at the beginning and then leave while his ministers continued.

Harper's chief spokesman Andrew MacDougall said that information isn't correct but would only say that details about Harper's level of involvement Friday would be forthcoming.


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