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Maritime Group Joins Protesting Chief Spence

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THERESA SPENCE
Attawapiskat First Nations Chief Theresa Spence (right) meets with NDP MP Charlie Angus (left) and other members of parliament in Ottawa, Dec. 30, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand | CP

A group of 50 Maritime activists is heading to Ottawa to support a hunger-striking First Nations leader.

The First Nations protesters left Fredericton Monday on a bus bound for the nation's capital.

They are going to back Chief Theresa Spence, who is in the third week of her attempt to get a meeting between First Nations leaders, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the governor general.

Chief Candice Paul of St. Mary's First Nation in Fredericton, N.B., said they plan to ring in the New Year with Spence. She said it was a community initiative.

"With a lot of people since it has begun, it has been laid on people's hearts. I was going myself, and I felt I couldn’t go myself without bringing other people and so we organized this bus and everybody has rallied around," Paul said Monday.

She said her group was mostly women from across the Maritimes, but also had elders, men and youth.

Call to prime minister

"We have Nova Scotia, P.E.I., northern New Brunswick, Fredericton — from all over," she said.

Speaking on a cell phone on the bus, she said the activists were travelling with "excitement and hope."

"We have people drumming, singing and praying," she said.

"We want to bring peace and hope. We're calling on the Canadian public to reach out and ask the prime minister to do the right thing and meet with Chief Spence," Paul added.

Spence is not eating solid food, but is taking fish broths and other liquids. "I think it shows just how desperate we are to come to the table and to talk," Paul said.

She had met Spence at past chiefs gatherings and described her as compassionate. Paul described conditions on Spence's northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat as troubling.

"It's horrible that people in our own country are living like that," Paul said. "It's not only Attawapiskat, there are communities right across Canada that don't have safe drinking water. It's very deplorable."

The Maritime group is staying for two nights.

Spence declined to meet aboriginal affairs minister

Spence is on Victoria Island in Ottawa living in a teepee. Protests supporting her are operating under the Idle No More banner and have won support from the NDP and others.

Harper has declined to meet Spence, but the Canadian government has offered her a meeting with Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan.

Federal ministers, including Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who is Inuit, have said Spence should accept the meeting with Duncan as he is the minister responsible for the portfolio.

Spence has declined to meet with Duncan.

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