Unified First Nation Leaders Vow to 'Seize the Moment' in Fight for Rights

Alex Rogers wears a grass dance headdress near a railway blockade line in Sarnia, Ont. in December. (Photo: Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Unified First Nation Leaders Vow to 'Seize the Moment' in Fight for Rights

Canadian government agrees to recognize indigenous rights, ending chief's 43-day hunger strike

First Nations leaders vowed Thursday to keep up the pressure on the federal government as they declared that the grassroots indigenous-rights Idle No More campaign was both unified and hear to stay.

"Make no mistake, the energy that's coming from our people is not going anywhere," said national chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo, who just returned from a medical leave, in a press conference Thursday.

Referring to the increased pressure on the Canadian government to recognize the universal issues of individual sovereignty and environmental protections which have underscored the movement's focus, Atleo continued:

It's not only a single person in the prime minister. It's the fact that this country is now recognizing that we need to address the issues and the relationship between First Nations and Canada, and there's some shared objectives.

[The status quo is] not working not only for First Nations, it's not working for Canadians and it's not working for governments. And so we need to with great haste seize on this moment and say that we're not going to let it go by.

Atleo was one of the First Nations leaders who held a "working meeting" with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on January 11, despite boycott by some chiefs--including Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence--because the meeting did not include Canadian Governor General David Johnston.

Touching upon the conflict, he added, "On principles of substance, we are unified."

A spokesperson for Spence seconded Atleo's statement Thursday, also vowing that the struggle will continue.

Earlier that day, Spence and Manitoba elder Raymond Robinson ended their 43-day hunger strike after representatives from the Assembly of First Nations and various governmental groups endorsed a declaration of specific commitments "to undertake political, spiritual and all other advocacy efforts to implement a renewed First Nations - Crown relationship," including full implementation of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), CBC reports.

A full text of the agreement can be read here.

Going forward, movement leaders are planning an Idle No More World Day of Action on Monday, January 28 (#J28) during which they will "peacefully protest attacks on Democracy, Indigenous Sovereignty, Human Rights and Environmental Protections" as Canadian Members of Parliament convene at the House of Commons in Ottawa.

Also, demonstrating the reach and international resonance of the campaign, major flash mobs are planned for this Saturday by supporters in the US and Australia.

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