“There is progress because they’re talking very openly now about an enhanced process and an accelerated process for treaty rights, that’s a good thing,” Mulcair said Sunday in an interview with the Star.
Mulcair said although hurdles remain, where provinces like B.C. have few treaties, he understood that Harper would create a cabinet-level committee to tackle treaty implementation issues. “Even though it’s bureaucratic — it is a step in the right direction.”
But it was not itemized by either Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan or the prime minister’s spokesman afterward. And Harper’s communications director Andrew MacDougall confirmed Sunday to the Star the government would not create a new cabinet committee.
Still it appeared enough for now for Mulcair to urge Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence to end her hunger strike, echoing a phrase coined by former Quebec premier René Lévesque in his call for Quebecers to take a shot at a new relationship with Canada.
“I think that there has been movement and if people want to take the ‘beau risque’ of saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to go with what we have now and hold them to account on what they have offered,’ then that would be a step in the right direction,” said the NDP leader. “I don’t want her to do irreparable harm to herself.”
Some aboriginal chiefs have called on Spence to end her strike, including Cree Grand Chief Matthew Coon-Come. Konrad Sioui, a Huron Grand Chief of the Wendake reserve near Quebec City told Radio-Canada most aboriginal chiefs would nevertheless support her.
Nicole Robertson, a spokeswoman for Spence, told the Star Sunday she does not intend to end her protest though she is concerned about her fellow fasters, Manitoba elder Raymond Robinson, and Jean Sock.
“There’s been plenty of politicians that definitely have come in and tell her to do that, indigenous and non-indigenous,” she said in response to the NDP leader’s remarks, “but she’s very firm on her stance.”
Robertson said nothing had changed since Spence dismissed Friday’s meeting on the weekend. “Thirty First Nation Chiefs don’t represent nor legitimize the mandate of all First Nations,” said Spence in her weekend statement.
“I think there’s a grassroots movement there that, for now, I’m letting my individual MPs who represent the ridings meet (her). But I’m not precluding it but I would hope that she put her health first.”
Mulcair said the government has itself to blame for the current upswing in tensions because since last year’s Crown-First Nations summit, “really nothing has happened, so the frustration is growing, it’s palpable especially among the young people in the First Nations and the government’s going to ignore that at its own risk.”
He pointed to a roadmap laid out in 1996 by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Affairs, saying the inquiry led by René Dussault and Georges Erasmus urged Ottawa to create real self-government for First Nations.
“Give them a tax base. How can people feel involved in their own administration who want to be involved if they’re not involved financially in their own future, if it’s just a system of a cheque coming from the feds?”
Sylvia McAdams, a professor at the First Nations University in Saskatoon and one of four women credited with kickstarting the now widespread grassroots Idle No More protest movement, told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday that Friday’s meeting failed to meet the movement’s key demand: the withdrawal of provisions in the federal budget bill affecting environmental protections, and aboriginal say over public lands and natural resources.
“Right now, the vision of Idle No More is that we’re peaceful and we’re working within the means of the legal boundaries,” she said.