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Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has now been on hunger strike for nearly a week, and she has still received no direct response to her demand for a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Many people have written, demonstrated and fasted to show their solidarity with Chief Spence. Yesterday, the Assembly of First Nations issued an urgent open letter to the prime minister, calling for a meeting. Today, two of the larger labour unions in Canada have written the following letter of support.
Negotiate First Nations treaty rights, labour leaders urge, in support of Chief Theresa Spence
Two of the country's largest private sector unions are calling on the federal government to meet with Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence immediately, leading into a formal treaty meeting with First Nations.
The Canadian Auto Workers union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union are expressing concern for Chief Spence's safety as she goes into her second week of a hunger strike, demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston. The unions urge the federal government to use a collective bargaining approach with the First Nations people over treaty rights.
"For our entire existence as a country, the federal government has abused the rights of the First Nations people," said CAW National President Ken Lewenza. "This is no more apparent than in Chief Spence's community of Attawapiskat where a year later, the town is still without adequate housing and infrastructure as the winter sets back in."
Lewenza said that he and many others have been deeply moved by the courage and tenacity shown by Chief Spence, who is in the seventh day of the hunger strike. The union leaders are adding their voices to the legions of supporters through the emerging #Idlenomore movement. During the hunger strike, Chief Spence is living in a teepee on Victoria Island in the Ottawa River, near the Supreme Court of Canada and the House of Commons.
"Chief Theresa Spence's fight for her people is similar to that labour movement and so many other groups - the fight for dignity, respect, and equality," said CEP National President Dave Coles. "It is urgently necessary that the government reach an equitable agreement with the First Nations people. As a country, we know all too well the reality of centuries of colonization, inequality and abuse.
"On behalf of more than 300,000 working women and men across Canada, we are urging the federal government to live up to its responsibility to aboriginal people and meet with Chief Theresa Spence and other aboriginal leaders," said Coles.
Photo: Regina Southwind