Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence in a teepee on Victoria Island, where she has been on hunger strike since Dec. 11. Photo: REUTERS/Chris Wattie
In a letter sent on Dec. 31, 2012, Anglican Church of Canada leaders have urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet with Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. Her hunger strike, which began Dec. 11, is a “sacrificial act of one for many” that demands respect and response, they said.
Spence is asking for a “nation-to-nation” meeting involving Harper, the Crown and First Nations leaders to address urgent aboriginal concerns, including violations to aboriginal treaties.
A spokesperson for the prime minister has said that Harper sees no reason to meet with Spence after meeting with aboriginal leaders at a summit last year. Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan has made several offers to meet with Spence but she declined.
The Anglican leaders noted in their letter that Harper’s 2008 statement of apology to former students of Indian residential schools acknowledged the need for a new and just relationship between the government and the First Nations. “Chief Spence’s fast is a clear echo of the many voices that that have called for a foundational consultation,” they said, adding that their support for Spence reflects the church’s “urgent commitment” to reconciliation with the aboriginal people of Canada. Failure to do so, they added, would leave “no viable or moral way forward for Canada,” and “we will all be diminished.”
Signatories include: Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald; Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Northern Ontario region; and leaders of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples.
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, MacDonald urged Anglicans across Canada to express support for Spence and “Idle No More”--the Canada-based aboriginal movement for indigenous rights.
“For Christians, especially those who have been involved in indigenous communities for centuries, this is an opportunity to be completely true to promises to walk with First Nations and all indigenous peoples,” said MacDonald. These promises include protecting the “integrity of their culture and nations and the wellbeing of the land for the use of all,” he added.
Several Anglicans have joined demonstrations organized by the movement in parts of Canada, including the “round dance flash mob” held Dec. 30 at the Eaton Centre in Toronto.
Opposition leaders as well as Spence’s supporters have expressed concern about her deteriorating health. She has been subsisting on fish broth, medical tea and lemon water.
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