Raymond Robinson holds a hunger strike for nation-to-nation talks
Manitoba Cree Grand Elder Raymond Robinson ended a five-day hunger strike April 9, but not before visiting Concordia University to explain the message behind his fast.
He introduced himself to the group of students and journalists at Concordia April 4 by shaking their hands and offering a kind word before he began telling his story. “I’m just a common man from the northern Cree territory of Cross Lake, Manitoba. I’ve lost children. I’ve lost grandchildren. I’d like to leave my children and grandchildren the same thing I’d like to leave for yours. And that’s a better a future.”
Robinson went on a hunger strike to call for Prime Minster Stephen Harper to initiate nation-to-nation negotiations would be held concerning treaty rights. Another action Robinson was calling for from the government was to remove certain provisions in the First Nations Communities Funding Agreement and Bills C-38 and C-45.
The funding agreement includes a provision that would force First Nations to abide by all existing and future provisions, which leaves them in a difficult position when mounting challenges in court. “I try my best to fathom this idea this government is trying to take us into but at what price,” he asked.
During his talk, Robinson chose a young woman from the crowd to stand next to him and hold up a coin before asking, “We’ve all come to this point in life where we have to ask what is more important to preserve, this money or this young lady?
“Over the past 40 years, it has always been a one-sided affair where the government has been saying, ‘I know what’s good for you. You don’t tell me what’s good for you.’” The message he is sending to the people of Canada is that First Nations need to stand as equals and no longer be relegated to being political talking points.
Robinson’s April hunger strike was a continuation of his earlier attempt with Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence last year at achieving action on the part of the federal government concerning Aboriginal rights. Before taking on this current venture, Robinson spoke with Chief Spence, who gave him her blessing but expressed her concern over this difficult and dangerous action. But that didn’t stop concerned people in the audience to plead with Robinson to at least drink some liquids. After a brief pause where the emotions ran high in the room, he smiled and responded, “I love you brother.”
On April 5, Robinson met with federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt. “It didn’t really go anywhere,” Robinson said of the encounter, during which Valcourt laughed off his request for a nation-to-nation meeting. But not everyone in Parliament is so quick to turn a deaf ear; Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton had a lengthy phone conversation with him on April 7.
The fast Robinson held was a spiritual one; he spent his days praying for the First Nations and the Crown to meet on equal footing. “As a Grand Elder, I have a duty and an obligation to always live by the sacred teachings that have been handed down by the First Elder, our Creator,” Robinson said in statement posted on the day before he ended his fast. “I pray for this world to aspire to work together.”