Blockades are sometimes the only way for aboriginal demonstrators to get a message across, says a New Democrat MP.

Romeo Saganash, who spent 30 years working in politics and advocacy on behalf of First Nations groups, says whether a blockade is effective depends on the circumstances.

"They are sometimes, sometimes they're not. The short answer is that," he told CBC News.

"I mean, it really depends on where, when and what are the reasons why. Is it the last resort in some cases? ... Is that the only way that the prime minister will listen to citizens and First Nations peoples in this country? Perhaps. This is a prime minister that's very difficult to move on many of the issues unless you're his friend. Very difficult to get anything from this prime minister. If you're an environmentalist, you're considered in his eyes as a radical. So it's a very difficult prime minister."

Saganash is easing back into work as the MP for Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou after taking leave last fall to be treated for alcohol dependence. He took a leave on Oct. 22 after he admitted he had been removed from an Air Canada Jazz flight from Montreal to Val D'Or, Que.

Saganash went into treatment at the beginning of November, where he says he was completely cut off from the outside world for three weeks — a different experience for someone who spends his working life tethered to a smartphone.

"I didn't know that Barack Obama, for instance, was re-elected until I came out on Nov. 22," he said. "They confiscated our cameras, our cellphones, our computers. You're not even allowed to bring books. No TV, no newspapers, nothing. So it's just yourself and the challenge that you have to settle issues."

'Revisited pain' of residential school

Only he is to blame for the decisions he made, Saganash said, though he spent much of his time in treatment dealing with fallout from his 10 years in a residential school.

"Given what I've done and what I've worked on and achieved over the last 30 years, I always thought at least in my mind that I had overcome that dark episode of my life," Saganash said.

"It's quite amazing to me to realize that what happened 40 years ago still has an impact on you today."

"I don't think anybody that attended a residential school will totally be at peace with that part of our lives. I don't think so. It's not possible. But at least to understand how it affects you today was an important dimension that I got to understand in treatment."

The MP says he spent a lot of time in his riding after he left treatment, particularly in the bush, where he ate a traditional diet that included rabbit and partridge.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said in a statement Thursday that Saganash will be taking on a deputy critic role for intergovernmental aboriginal affairs.

"I hold Romeo in high regard," Mulcair said. "I admire his determination and good negotiation skills. He understands the magnitude of the task before him, and I know that he is up to this new challenge."

Before being elected to the House of Commons, Saganash was a well-known Cree leader and negotiator who wrangled deals with hydro and forestry companies.

He says Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed some movement on First Nations issues when he met last week with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo.

"Let us hope that that continues, because that is what is required right now, political will on the part of the prime minister," Saganash said.

"'Does the prime minister have the political will to settle all these issues,' is a question that he only can answer. But the meeting happened and I think it's a step. Let's see what happens from now on."

Harper has 'key to unlock' First Nations dilemma

Even while discussing a serious issue, Saganash hasn't lost his ability to crack a joke, referring to the Conservative government's love of the monarchy in addressing whether Gov. Gen. David Johnston needs to be at any meeting with First Nations leaders.

"If there's one thing that this prime minister should understand, it's the symbol of the Crown, right? I'm hoping that he can relate to that message," he said.

"The prime minister is the prime minister and he holds the key to unlocking this national dilemma that we have right now."

Last week, chiefs from Manitoba and Ontario refused to meet with Harper and Atleo, demanding Johnston be there too. Some chiefs said they wanted to vote non-confidence in Atleo, with two former candidates against him in last summer's race for national chief speaking out against him.

But Saganash says the AFN has strong leadership.

"I think that division is perfectly normal — perfectly normal ... [Aboriginal People's] contexts, our political contexts, our legal contexts are very different form one end of the country to the other. So of course the approaches are going to be different. Of course, we won't agree on everything and that's perfectly normal."

Saganash counsels that leaders need the chance to prove themselves, and Atleo had that opportunity.

"There are certain situations and certain moments in time where you have to make those difficult decisions. I've been through that in 30 years in politics. I've been through those moments," he said.

'Not looking at excuses'

In a statement last fall, Saganash said he had to overcome a dependence on alcohol, "like far too many other Canadians."

"Neither fatigue nor stress can justify what I did.... I have asked my leader [Tom Mulcair] to give me leave so that I can take the necessary time to treat this illness. I am deeply grateful for his support and the support of all my colleagues in this difficult period of my life."

Saganash also apologized to the other passengers on the plane and to the flight crew. The Air Canada flight was delayed by half an hour as Saganash was escorted off the plane.

He said many of his colleagues can attest to the pitfalls of working in the hectic environment of Parliament Hill.

"I am not looking at excuses, but I know that profound scars were left on me because of my time in residential school. I never shied away from that. The death of my friend and mentor, Jack Layton, also greatly affected me," he said in the statement.

Saganash ran for the NDP leadership in 2012 but dropped out partway through the campaign. At the time he went on leave, he said in the statement the race wore him out and took him away more often from his family than his regular MP duties.

Saganash was elected to represent the northern Quebec riding of Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou in 2011.

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  • A native dancer looks on during an 'Idle No More' gathering on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Native dancers rally during an 'Idle No More' gathering on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Idle No More Mall Protest

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  • It's about the future

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  • United we stand

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Doug_Cleverley"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/805699678/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Doug_Cleverley">Doug Cleverley</a>:<br />At the #IdleNoMore rally in Owen Sound (Saugeen Ojibway Nation territory), during a spontaneous round dance at the main downtown intersection.

  • Killer Whale Dance

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/4441016.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop">Courtney Harrop</a>:<br />Idle No More actions, Coast Salish Territories, Powell River, BC

  • Idle No More #J11

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  • Idle No More #J11 March

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  • Tla'Amin Prayer Song #J11 Idle No More

    Tla'Amin Prayer song on #J11 2013 Idle No More, Coast Salish Territories, Powell River BC

  • Tla'Amin Killer Whale Dance, #J11 #IdleNoMore

    Tla'Amin Killer Whale Dance, #J11 #IdleNoMore, Coast Salish Territories, Powell River, BC

  • C45 affects all Canadians! Join the fight.

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Eleanor_Kure"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/840875359/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Eleanor_Kure">Eleanor Kure</a>:<br />At the Idle No More protest in Halifax Nova Scotia. with an eco-justice article in pocket, spreading the word that Bill C45 affects every Canadian, not only First Nations. Thank you FN, for beginning this movement.

  • Piyesiw Awasis

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  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/01/16/idle-no-more-queen-elizabeth-2-highway-blockade-alberta_n_2490009.html">Idle No More supporters jump onto a truck</a> as they are pushed by a driver trying to pass, as the protesters block Highway 2 as part of a planned national day of action, in Edmonton, Alberta on Wedneday January 16, 2013.

  • Aboriginal protesters march down Huron Church Road towards the Ambassador bridge in Windsor Ontario, Wednesday, January 16, 2013. About 1000 demonstrators disrupted traffic to the country's busiest border crossing for several hours.

  • Aboriginal protestors pray at the end of their blockade of a CN railroad track just west of Portage La Prairie, Man., on Wednesday, January 16, 2016. They ended their protest without incident.

  • Aboriginal protesters demonstrate at the base of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor Ontario, Wednesday, January 16, 2013. About 1000 demonstrators disrupted traffic to the country's busiest border crossing for several hours.

  • Idle No More demonstrators block a CN east-west track just west of Portage La Prairie, Manitoba Wednesday, January 16, 2016.

  • Mississaugas of the New Credit support INM

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Vicki_King_Jamieson"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/750500023/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Vicki_King_Jamieson">Vicki King Jamieson</a>:<br />New Credit Youth supporting INM

  • Montreal Idle No More

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Caillum"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Caillum">Caillum</a>:<br />Thousands of people, both Native and Canadian, show their support at an Idle No More protest in Montreal on January 11th, 2013.

  • #Denendeh #J11 #IdleNoMore #YZF #NWT Yellowknife "Northwest Territories"

    Video of the Global Day of Action rally in downtown Somba K’e (Yellowknife)on the Akaitcho territory of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation in Denendeh (Northwest Territories).

  • #IdleNoMore March and Round Dance in Yellowknife Denendeh NWT

    "Today (Friday, December 21, 2012) in Denendeh and across the globe, we made an impact, a statement for true justice to be brought forward and acknowledged. But it will not stop, for the 8th fire has been lit and will only grow. Mahsi for all who showed up and united, we felt the support....we felt the fire!! And there's more to come in the new year." On Facebook By Lawrence Nayally, Melaw Nakehk'o and Eugene Boulanger https://www.facebook.com/events/112403725595655/

  • Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, wearing a headdress, takes part in a drum ceremony before departing a Ottawa hotel to attend a ceremonial meeting at Rideau Hall with Gov. Gen. David Johnston in Ottawa, Friday January 11, 2013.

  • Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, centre, departs a Ottawa hotel to attend a ceremonial meeting at Rideau Hall with Gov. Gen. David Johnston in Ottawa, Friday January 11, 2013.

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with First Nations leaders in Ottawa on January 11, 2013.

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with First Nations leaders in Ottawa on January 11, 2013.

  • Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence makes a brief statement on Victoria Island near Parliament Hill Friday January 11, 2013 in Ottawa. Spence is speaking out for the first time about how her reserve spends government money, saying most of what flows to her isolated James Bay reserve actually gets spent outside the community.

  • Aboriginal Chiefs stand at the main gate to Parliament Hill during a protest Friday January 11, 2013 in Ottawa.

  • Idle No More protesters listen to speakers during a rally on Parliament Hill Friday January 11, 2013 in Ottawa.

  • Gordie Odjig of Wikwemikong stands at the west gate to the Langevin Block during the aboriginal meeting in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Idle No More at UBC Vancouver

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Randall_Gray"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/100001602753648/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Randall_Gray">Randall Gray</a>:<br />

  • Idle No More at UBC Vancouver

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Randall_Gray"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/100001602753648/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Randall_Gray">Randall Gray</a>:<br />

  • Los Angeles Rally In Solidarity with First nations

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/hp_blogger_Melinda Gopher"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/contributors/melinda-gopher/headshot.jpg" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/hp_blogger_Melinda Gopher">HuffPost Blogger Melinda Gopher</a>:<br />Brock Conway, Blackfeet activist, with Saulteaux Actor Adam Beach and companion. Photo: Morning Star Gopher

  • Native protesters march up Wellington Street in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Four-year-old Phoenix Sky Cottrelle,from Aamjiwnaang First Nation, holds a sign as aboriginal protestors gather on Victoria Island before they march to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Aboriginal protestors hold signs as they march from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Gordie Odjig, an aboriginal protestor from Wikwemikong, shouts as he marches from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Woman's Voices

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  • Idle No More Edmonton

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  • IdleNoMore March, Dauphin, Mb

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Phyllis_Racette"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1354341984/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Phyllis_Racette">Phyllis Racette</a>:<br />#IdleNoMOre Dauphin, Mb

  • Chicago Idle No More @ the Canadian Consulate

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  • VancouverC Jan 2 2013

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  • A man waves a flags as aboriginal protesters and supporters in the Idle No More movement block the Blue Water Bridge border crossing to the United States in Sarnia, Ont. on Saturday, January 5, 2013.

  • VancouverA Jan 2 2013

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  • VancouverB Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • VancouverD Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • VancouverH Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC, January 2, 2013.

  • VancouverF Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • VancouverE Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • VancouverG Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • Flag Planting

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  • Dec 21st 2012 Idle No More Ottawa: Berdine

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