Manitoba aboriginal leader starts hunger strike

An aboriginal leader from Manitoba says he has begun yet another hunger protest in an effort to stop changes to federal funding for First Nations people.

MONTREAL — An aboriginal leader from Manitoba says he has begun yet another hunger protest in an effort to stop changes to federal funding for First Nations people.

Grand Elder Raymond Robinson says his latest action will continue until Prime Minister Stephen Harper agrees to have a meaningful dialogue with aboriginal leaders.

“I’m going all out this time,” Robinson said of his new protest, during which he says he will not consume any food or water.

Robinson told a small gathering at Montreal’s Concordia University on Wednesday that he’s acting in the interest of future and current generations.

“I’ve run out of options as to what to do to make this stop, this continued atrocity, this continued abuse to our lands, our waters and our resources,” he said.

Robinson joined Chief Theresa Spence of the Ontario Attawapiskat reserve in going on a liquids-only diet last year to promote aboriginal demands. Their protest ended in January and resulted in Robinson losing 45 pounds.

Robinson says Spence supports his latest action. The activist from the Cross Lake First Nation in Manitoba says he also expects to meet with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo.

Robinson criticized two bills that aboriginal leaders have warned would weaken environmental assessments and the protection of waters. He said they also weaken existing traditional rights.

He also wants Harper to cancel a series of recent amendments to the First Nations Comprehensive Funding Agreements.

Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Native Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, said the minister is prepared to meet with Robinson or any First Nations community member who wants to make progress for aboriginal people.

“Our government shares the same objectives as First Nations — healthier, more prosperous and self-sufficient communities,” MacDonald said in an email. “Real progress means working together, not threatening one another.”

MacDonald pointed out that Valcourt met last Wednesday with Chief Garrison Settee and Grand Chief David Harper from Robinson’s community in Manitoba to talk about education and housing issues.

The government is encouraging Robinson to continue to consume food and water, he added.

Robinson talked at length Wednesday about the importance of the land and his spiritual connection to it. The Cree elder, who held a white eagle feather as he spoke, also discussed his many years of involvement in negotiations on aboriginal treaties.

“It’s always been a one-sided affair,” he said.

First Nations leaders have been angry about strings they say the federal government has attached to their funding, including a clause that requires them to abide by existing and future legislation. They have argued this limits their right to mount challenges in the courts.

The 2013-2014 First Nations funding agreement sets out conditions for funding such as reporting and transparency requirements.