US & Canada

Canada native meeting ends with pledge of further talks

Members of the First Nations demonstrate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on 11 January 2013
Native Canadians who boycotted the talks were angered Harper did not come to them and meet on their terms

A meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a group of First Nations chiefs has ended with a promise of "high-level dialogue".

The talks ended a day of protest as supporters of Native leaders boycotting the meeting marched through Ottawa.

Those who sat out of the meeting with Mr Harper are angry the country's governor general did not attend.

The talks on land and treaty rights were spurred by a protest by Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence.

A group of native leaders rallied behind her after she announced she would be boycotting the meeting.

She went on a liquids-only hunger strike four weeks ago in protest against a budget bill that critics say weakens native land rights and environmental safeguards.

Since then, solidarity protests and blockades have sought to bring attention to the bill and larger Native grievances.

Royal representation

On Friday, Mr Harper and a group of native leaders met at government offices outside the Canadian parliament in Ottawa.

Governor General David Johnston - who is the Queen's representative but is not involved with everyday government matters - offered to attend a separate ceremonial meeting with the chiefs after the discussions.

Ms Spence and other native leaders have said a meeting with Mr Harper alone would not be sufficient, arguing the treaty rights in question were first established under a royal proclamation.

Shortly before the summit with Mr Harper ended, Ms Spence announced she would be attending the ceremonial meeting with the governor general.

Broadcaster CTV reported that Ms Spence chose to attend to express her disappointment with how the process had unfolded, while the CBC reports she told supporters that it was time to "time to sit down together" with Mr Johnston.

Hundreds of protesters marched through Ottawa on Friday in support of Ms Spence's position, some briefly blocking the entrance to the prime minister's office before the talks began.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said there had been a "good, frank dialogue" and that Mr Harper had agreed to a future "high-level" meeting with Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo.

That meeting will involve discussions about treaty rights, education and employment opportunities, Mr Duncan said.

Mr Atleo attended the meeting with Mr Harper after calling for unity on Thursday evening.

"We need to continue to stand united - chiefs, delegates," Mr Atleo said, according to broadcaster CTV. "If we are to be divided at a moment like this, the governments will see that."

Some chiefs angered by Mr Atleo's attendance at the talks have threatened a no-confidence vote against him.

It is not clear how many leaders attended the meeting with Mr Harper.

The grassroots movement Idle No More, which has been critical of the elected First Nations leadership, has rallied behind Ms Spence, organising global shows of support and blockades of rail lines in Canada.

Ms Spence has faced questions about an audit of Attawapiskat's finances that showed a lack of documentation of how federal funds transferred to the nation were spent.

In a statement to reporters on Friday, she accused Mr Harper of making "false statements about funding".

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