Tensions rising in Canada over aboriginal living conditions
Canada’s governor general on Thursday invited native chiefs to meet with him amid growing tensions with aboriginal peoples over squalid living conditions on reserves.
The “ceremonial meeting” at Rideau Hall, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in this former British colony, is scheduled for Friday evening after planned talks between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the chiefs.
Harper previously agreed to demands for emergency talks to discuss treaty rights and ways to raise living standards on reserves after a four-week hunger strike by one northern Ontario chief put a spotlight on their plight.
But hunger-striking Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence this week suddenly backed out of the scheduled talks with Harper.
And a delegation of weighty native chiefs from Manitoba province followed suit on Thursday in support of her protest, raising doubts about what can actually be accomplished at these talks with key stakeholders expected to be absent.
Governor General David Johnston had originally declined to join in discussions with Spence and other aboriginal leaders, saying their plight is a political matter that must be taken up with elected officials.
Spence had said that the governor general’s attendance was “integral when discussing inherent and treaty rights.” Canada’s more than 600 indigenous reserves were created by royal proclamation in 1763.
She was not immediately available to react to Johnston’s invitation to meet separately.
In addition to complaints of severe poverty on reserves, many natives also blasted changes last month to environmental and other laws that they say impact their hunting and fishing rights, and allow tribes to lease reserve lands to non-natives.
Though the government insists the latter was meant to help boost economic development on reserves, some fear it will result in a loss of native control of reserve lands and eventually lead to the end of aboriginal communities.