Fort William First Nation chief Peter Collins hopes to attend the Assembly of First Nations meeting with the prime minister.
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THUNDER BAY -- Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins hopes to be a part of the much-anticipated meeting with prime minister Stephen Harper next week.
The prime minister’s office announced Friday that Harper would attend a meeting organized by the Assembly of First Nations to discuss treaty relationships and Aboriginal rights and economic development.
The meeting would take place on Jan. 11.
Moments before the announcement, Aboriginal leaders and opposition critics held a media conference to discuss the health of Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence, who has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 11, sustaining herself mainly on fish broth.
Spence demanded to meet Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston and said that meeting would have to happen within 72 hours.
Collins said the decision by Harper to meet with Aboriginal leaders shows Spence’s struggles have opened his heart.
“It’s a step in the right direction and a work in progress,” Collins said.
“We’ll see who gets to participate. I had the privilege in the Crown First Nation gathering. I’m not sure if I will be invited or who will be invited but we will wait and see. It’s a historical movement but it is still only words and we’ll see what happens in this meeting.”
Collins praised the Idle No More movement for its contribution in creating awareness of First Nation issues across the country.
Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert drew parallels between the Idle No More movement and the grassroots initiatives of the Quebec student protests in early 2012.
Collins said that grassroots initiative helped inspire the Idle No More movement because of the way it makes people aware of the issues.
“It’s a unity eye opening,” he said. “We need to build a unity within our communities to work on the same initiative. If we speak with one voice, we get heard more. If we do it independently, they don’t listen to us as much. Don’t know if this will directly stop the blockades or Idle No More but I think we need to see a solid commitment.”
Harper's statement said next week's meeting will build on the 2012 talks, where the government and First Nations committed to an ongoing dialogue.
"While some progress has been made, there is more that must be done to improve outcomes for First Nations communities across Canada,” Harper said in the statement.
"The government of Canada and First Nations have an enduring historic relationship based on mutual respect, friendship and support. The government of Canada is committed to strengthening this relationship.'
--With files from the Canadian Press
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