Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus said he wasn’t making a personal threat against Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he questioned the safety of the country’s top politician should something happen to Chief Theresa Spence, the Ontario chief currently on a hunger strike.
In an e-mail to the Assembly of First Nations forwarded to News/North on Thursday morning, Erasmus stated he was concerned about the health of Spence but in the same e-mail, Erasmus suggested the prime minister may be in danger should Spence die. Erasmus sits on the Assembly of First Nations executive as the regional chief representing the NWT.
“With one million indigenous people in Canada and 450 million indigenous people in the world, it may not be safe for the prime minister,” Erasmus stated in the e-mail.
Erasmus told News/North later in the day that the statement was not intended as a personal threat against Harper, but more of a warning due to frustration from aboriginal people in Canada and around the world.
“People can read that a whole lot of different ways and what I’m saying is it doesn’t take much,” he said.
He also warned the prime minister’s refusal to meet with Spence could lead to an Oka-like crisis when the Canadian Forces and members of the Mohawk nation engaged in a violent conflict in 1990, which lasted more than two months in Quebec.
“All she’s asking for is a meeting,” he said. “Just a commitment to meet in the future and (Harper is) watching her die. Essentially, that’s how some people are viewing it. People have died in the past and there are still people today who are saying that’s where their mindset it. The prime minister needs to realize that Chief Spence means it.”
Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 11 in support of the “Idle No More” movement, the ongoing protests taking place across the country and in some other parts of the world. She’s been living in a teepee on Victoria Island on the Ottawa River, where a historic indigenous centre of First Nations people is located, since her protest began. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has made overtures to Spence to meet but Spence has been steadfast in her demand for a meeting involving First Nations, the prime minister and a representative from the Crown, possibly Governor-General David Johnston.
Erasmus said he has not yet spoken to Spence but he has spoken to her chief spokesperson and she’s apparently in good spirits and in relatively good health and is prepared for whatever happens to her.
“In our discussions, it was with the full executive of the AFN,” he said. “What her spokesperson said was that she talked to her family and they’ve all come to terms that she’s prepared to go,” he said.
Calls to the Assembly of First Nation’s head office in Ottawa were not returned as of press time and a spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s Office, Stephen Lecce, said there is generally no comment made when it comes to matters of the prime minister’s security.
The e-mail was sent before the “Honk Around The World” protest, which was scheduled to happen at 3 p.m. this past Thursday in Yellowknife and several other communities around the NWT. The event was the latest action in support of Spence’s protest.
Erasmus said the protests are going to continue for as long as it takes to get the message across.
“They’ll continue throughout the winter, into the warmer months until people get what they want,” he said. “The country has changed and we have to come to terms with it. We’re concerned about Chief Spence but we’re also concerned about the safety of the prime minister.”
– by James McCarthy