Chief Spence sticks to hunger strike demands

Attawapiskat First Nations chief Theresa Spence



OTTAWA -- Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence says she's lost more than 30 pounds over the past five weeks and will continue to refuse solid foods until the prime minister calls a "nation-to-nation" meeting between all levels of government and First Nations.

"I go day by day and I'm still waiting for that meeting," Spence said during an interview aired Sunday on CTV's Question Period. "It has to be all leaders, not just the national chief (Shawn Atleo)," she said.

The chief of the Northern Ontario reserve of some 1,500 people - who has been surviving on fish broth and tea since Dec. 11 in a bid to force a meeting with First Nations leaders, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston - also lashed out over the government's release of a scathing audit of the reserve's finances.

The audit of the beleaguered First Nation's balance sheets found little or no supporting paperwork for more than $100 million in funds it received over a six-year period ending in 2011.

Once complete, the audit had to be released by the feds within a 90-day window.

But Spence said she felt the timing - a few days before a Jan. 11 meeting between Harper, Atleo and other chiefs and not long before the government's own deadline - was a broken promise.

"I mentioned to (government officials) it's good to see where we need to improve," Spence said of the audit. "I told them we will comply with the recommendations but we don't want you to use this against us."

The independent audit also slapped Aboriginal Affairs for inadequate financial controls of the money it gave the band.

Spence - along with chiefs from Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories - boycotted the Jan. 11 meeting because the Governor General didn't attend.

"We didn't ask for a working group meeting, we asked for a nation-to-nation meeting. Why is the prime minister and the Governor General afraid to meet with us?" she asked.

Spence attended a ceremonial event that same evening with the Governor General at Rideau Hall, but dismissed it as a photo op.

On Friday, Manitoba chiefs said they'd asked the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) executive to request another meeting with the prime minister on Jan. 24.

The Prime Minister's Office said they had yet to receive a formal request and that the next meeting will be between Harper and the AFN's national chief.
Atleo is currently on medical leave.

Spence invited critics to visit her on Victoria Island on the Ottawa River near Parliament.

"Come and visit me and come and talk to me and you'll see what I'm going through," she said.
But despite Sunday's interview, Spence hasn't been so welcoming to journalists.

She hasn't taken questions in over a week, instead communicating through statements. And Global News reporters were threatened with arrest and escorted out of Attawapiskat in early January when they tried to speak with residents on Spence's request.

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