First Nations may engage in economic blockades if Canada refuses treaty talks

First Nations leaders have discussed plans to launch country-wide economic disruptions by the middle of January if Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t agree to hunger-striking Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s demand for a treaty meeting

During three days of meetings and teleconferences, chiefs from across the country discussed a plan setting Jan. 16 as the day to launch a campaign of indefinite economic disruptions, including railway and highway blockades, according to two chiefs who were involved in the talks who requested anonymity.

“The people are restless, they are saying enough is enough,” said one chief, who was involved in the discussions. “Economic impacts are imminent if there is no response.”

Chiefs were still finalizing details of their plans Monday evening and it remained unclear to what extent their discussed options would translate into the official position.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo is expected to write Harper a letter outlining the chiefs’ position.

Spence launched her hunger strike on Dec. 11 to force a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Governor General David Johnston and First Nations leaders to discuss the state of the treaties. Spence said in a statement issued Monday that the aim of the meeting was to “re-establish” the treaty relationship and finally put First Nations people in their “rightful place back here in our homelands that we all call Canada.”

The plan of action comes as the Idle No More movement continues to sweep across the country through round dances, rallies along with highway and rail blockades.

The Tyendinaga Mohawks briefly blockaded a main CN rail line between Toronto and Montreal Sunday, stranding about 2,000 Via Rail passengers. The Mi’kmaq from the Listuguj First Nation, Que., continue to hold a rail blockade on a CN line along with members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation who have shut a CN line in Sarnia, Ont. In British Columbia, the Seton Lake Indian Band ended a rail blockade on Sunday.

How the chiefs’ action plan will mesh with the Idle No More movement remains to be seen. Idle No More organizers issued a statement Monday that distanced the movement from the chiefs.

“The chiefs have called for action and anyone who chooses can join with them, however, this is not part of the Idle No More movement as the vision of this grassroots movement does not coincide with the visions of the leadership,” said the statement, posted on the Idle No More Facebook page. “While we appreciate the individual support we have received from chiefs and councillors, we have been given a clear mandate by the grassroots to work outside the systems of government and that is what we will continue to do.”

One of the chiefs involved in action plan discussion said the leadership wanted to be sensitive to the grassroots-driven movement and make clear that their plans are being developed in support and as a response to Idle No More.

“Chiefs are standing firm in support of Idle No More and grassroots citizens,” said the chief. “We now need to unify.”