01/18/2013 23:23 EST | Updated 03/20/2013 05:12 EDT

Manitoba reserve stays out of Idle No More politics

Leaders with a northern Manitoba First Nation say they support the Idle No More movement, but they're staying quiet out of concern it has become too political.

Chief Jerry Primrose of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in Nelson House, Man., says he supports the ideas behind Idle No More, the nationwide movement that has been raising awareness of the issues aboriginal people face and demanding changes from Ottawa.

However, the band is in a partnership with Manitoba Hydro, a provincial Crown corporation, for the $1.4-billion Wuskwatim hydroelectric dam that was completed last year.

First Nation officials want to build an urban reserve in Thompson, Man., about an hour's drive away from Nelson House, in the hopes of generating jobs for their members.

Primrose said he worries the Idle No More protests could go too far, and becoming vocal could hurt his First Nation's relationship with the federal government.

"They could delay a lot of things for us, like, as leadership, if we start getting vocal or start protesting," he told CBC News.

"We don't know that, but from our position I'm just saying, 'Let's stay in the background.'"

Primrose's approach is in stark contrast to that of other First Nation leaders in the province, including Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, who has played a prominent role in recent Idle No More events.

"From our perspective, it's better to be in a good diplomatic position," Primrose said.

Man finishes hunger strike

Unlike in larger centres, such as Winnipeg, there is no visible sign of Idle No More — no rallies, no posters — on the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, located about 700 kilometres north of the provincial capital.

But the grassroots movement can be found in the small shack where Wilson Hardie, 55, endured a month-long hunger strike in support of Idle No More.

Hardie estimated that he lost more than 35 pounds during his 31-day hunger strike, in which he consumed only tea made from the bark of spruce trees.

He finally ate moose stew and toast on Wednesday, at the insistence of worried family members and friends.

"I had tears in my eyes," he said.

Hardie said he is unhappy both with the federal government and his own chief and council, accusing the latter of not being very supportive.

"That pissed me off. That really took a chunk off me," he said.

Primrose said he did not stop Hardie from protesting.

Hardie's supporters have since vowed to keep his hunger strike going, with about two dozen women taking part in rotating fasts.