Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence will not attend Friday's "working meeting" between First Nations chiefs and Prime Minister Stephen Harper unless Gov. Gen. David Johnston changes his mind and decides to attend, a report from Aboriginal Peoples Television Network says.
The APTN report quotes Spence’s spokesman Danny Metatawabin as saying: "“If [Johnston] is not going to be there, Theresa is not going to the meeting. We are going to take it day by day.”
Earlier, Johnston's spokesperson had characterized the Friday session as "a working meeting with government on public policy issues," differentiating it from the nature of the 2012 Crown-First Nations gathering in which Johnston did participate as the Queen's representative in Canada.
The key demand of Spence, who has been declining solid food since Dec.11 as a form of protest, is a meeting between the Crown and First Nations to discuss what she characterizes as "treaty issues."
Spence had been expected to attend the meeting announced by Harper last Friday, as part of a group of chiefs from across Canada co-ordinated by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo.
She had left it open as to whether that meeting would be sufficient to meet her demands and end her hunger strike.
The Governor General was seen as an important participant for the meeting because he represents the British Crown, which negotiated the original treaties with aboriginal people.
On Monday, a much-anticipated audit of the Attawapiskat First Nation's finances by accounting firm Deloitte was leaked to the media. The report revealed a significant lack of documentation and a "lack of due diligence" for the band council's expenditures of some $104 million of federal government funding between 2005 and 2011.
The audit also raised questions about whether federal officials provided sufficient oversight for the troubled community, whose administration has been under co-management with the federal government for more than a decade.
Spence characterized the release of the audit as a "distraction," with her camp suggesting its information may be wrong and its release timed to discredit her.
Fontaine met with Spence Tuesday
Former national chief Phil Fontaine met with Spence on Tuesday, telling reporters afterwards outside her camp on Victoria Island on the Ottawa River that he was there to show support for her cause.
Fontaine did not comment specifically on Attawapiskat's finances, but said simply that Spence continues to have a lot of support. He is not attending Friday's meeting, and denied earlier reports that he was considering returning his newly announced Order of Canada as a form of protest.
During a joint news conference on Parliament Hill with Thomas Boni Yayi, president of the Republic of Benin and chairman of the African Union, Harper told reporters Tuesday afternoon that his government "has a record of moving forward clearly step by step on a lot of issues," including the aboriginal file.
"I know that there are great challenges in certain aboriginal communities and we will continue through legislation, through meetings – not just the meeting this week, but the meetings we have had in the past, the meetings we will continue to have – to identify ways to move forward in the same way that we want to move forward for all Canadians: with the creation of growth, jobs and long-term prosperity for all communities," Harper said.
The Assembly of First Nations began holding strategy and planning meetings in Ottawa Tuesday to prepare for Friday's meeting. On Wednesday and Thursday, the AFN is expected to hold ceremonies and other forums to engage its membership and consult in advance of the talks.
Also on Friday, the grassroots protest movement Idle No More announced Tuesday that it's organizing a "one-day national dialogue" with indigenous chiefs to "discuss water, land, sovereignty and treaty relationships" at Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan's Treaty 4 Governance Centre.
With files from The Canadian Press
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