By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
First Nations leaders have discussed plans to launch country-wide economic disruptions by the middle of January if Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t agree to hunger-striking Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s demand for a treaty meeting, APTN National News has learned.
During three days of meetings and teleconferences, chiefs from across the country discussed a plan setting Jan. 16 as the day to launch a campaign of indefinite economic disruptions, including railway and highway blockades, according to two chiefs who were involved in the talks who requested anonymity.
“The people are restless, they are saying enough is enough,” said one chief, who was involved in the discussions. “Economic impacts are imminent if there is no response.”
Chiefs were still finalizing details of their plans Monday evening and it remained unclear to what extent their discussed options would translate into the official position.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo is expected to write Harper a letter outlining the chiefs’ position.
Spence launched her hunger strike on Dec. 11 to force a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Governor General David Johnston and First Nations leaders to discuss the state of the treaties. Spence said in a statement issued Monday that the aim of the meeting was to “re-establish” the treaty relationship and finally put First Nations people in their “rightful place back here in our homelands that we all call Canada.”
The plan of action comes as the Idle No More movement continues to sweep across the country through round dances, rallies along with highway and rail blockades.
The Tyendinaga Mohawks briefly blockaded a main CN rail line between Toronto and Montreal Sunday, stranding about 2,000 Via Rail passengers. The Mi’kmaq from the Listuguj First Nation, Que., continue to hold a rail blockade on a CN line along with members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation who have shut a CN line in Sarnia, Ont. In British Columbia, the Seton Lake Indian Band ended a rail blockade on Sunday.
How the chiefs’ action plan will mesh with the Idle No More movement remains to be seen. Idle No More organizers issued a statement Monday that distanced the movement from the chiefs.
“The chiefs have called for action and anyone who chooses can join with them, however, this is not part of the Idle No More movement as the vision of this grassroots movement does not coincide with the visions of the leadership,” said the statement, posted on the Idle No More Facebook page. “While we appreciate the individual support we have received from chiefs and councillors, we have been given a clear mandate by the grassroots to work outside the systems of government and that is what we will continue to do.”
One of the chiefs involved in action plan discussion said the leadership wanted to be sensitive to the grassroots-driven movement and make clear that their plans are being developed in support and as a response to Idle No More.
“Chiefs are standing firm in support of Idle No More and grassroots citizens,” said the chief. “We now need to unify.”
The meetings and teleconferences included between 50 to 60 chiefs from British Columbia to the Maritimes, according to the sources.
During the discussions, some First Nations leaders suggested individual communities and treaty regions issue “breach of treaty” declarations beginning Jan. 1 and leading up to Jan. 16. Aside from blockades, chiefs discussed stepping up rallies at MP’s offices, continuing letter campaigns and launching Twitter bombs.
“All we are doing is reasserting our own sovereign right and inherent right within this treaty,” said a second chief, who was also involved in the discussions. “The time has come that they need to see we are a sovereign entity, we have and always will be because of the relationship of treaty that was entered into by the Crown and numerous nations.”
There are also plans to hold ceremonies and vigils in Ottawa between Jan. 10 and 13 in support of Spence, who entered into day 21 of her hunger strike on New Year’s Eve.
“Those are going to be in response, either to a response from the prime minister, or to prepare for a potential and imminent impact on Canada’s economy as a result,” said one of the chiefs.
The chief, however, stressed that the leadership is taking their direction from grassroots citizens who are tired of the state of things.
“Our people are growing frustrated, they are tired of the impoverished conditions and mining companies coming to our treaty territories to take what is left,” said the chief. “What we are now seeing is our grassroots citizens are saying enough is enough.”