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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. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
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. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Governor-General offers chief 'special welcome' at ceremonial meeting Add to ...

Gov. Gen. David Johnston offered Theresa Spence a “special welcome” and said he wanted “to say how concerned I am about your health and that of Raymond Robinson and Jean Sock.” Mr. Robinson and Mr. Sock are two aboriginals who are also staging hunger protests.

“My deepest wish is for the well-being of all Canadians, and for dialogue to always take place in a safe and healthy manner,” Mr. Johnston said in prepared remarks released Friday night by Rideau Hall. The meeting wrapped up shortly after 9 p.m. ET, a spokesperson said.

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Ms. Spence, the First Nation chief whose month-long hunger protest has helped to fan the flames of the Idle No More protest movement, emerged from her island encampment Friday to meet with Mr. Johnston.

Ms. Spence, chief of the troubled Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, has been on a liquids-only diet for the past month in hopes of securing a meeting with Mr. Johnston and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

She joined a group of her fellow chiefs at a downtown Ottawa hotel before heading to Rideau Hall, for an evening meeting described by officials as “ceremonial.” Looking frail and tired, she walked gingerly with the help of several handlers.

At one point, she stood briefly in a room full of chiefs, wearing a headdress, to be feted by a group of aboriginal drummers. Her health, however, is seriously diminished, said spokesman Danny Metatawabin, who admitted surprise at her appearance at the hotel.

“She’s tired, she’s weak. She’s weakening. Got cramps in her stomach. We’re all praying for her,” Mr. Metatawabin said.

“The body’s stressed right now because of all the commotion of today.”

She later boarded one of two buses waiting to ferry the group to Rideau Hall.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan and several of Ms. Spence’s fellow chiefs were among those publicly urging Ms. Spence to end her protest, saying her health is in danger and she accomplished what she set out to do.

"I have been very much wanting to have a conversation with Theresa Spence, I’ve offered multiple times, and I expressed concern again today; there were many people in the room who expressed major concern.”

The meeting with Mr. Johnston caps a pivotal day in Ottawa that included a meeting between Harper and First Nations leaders.

Thousands of aboriginal protesters and their supporters also flooded Parliament Hill and staged Idle No More demonstrations across Canada in a show of solidarity.

Earlier Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended a full three-and-a-half hour meeting with First Nations leaders Friday afternoon, as protests in Ottawa and across the country continue.

Mr. Harper had initially planned to attend only the first half hour and the last hour of the meeting, but his press secretary, Carl Vallée, wrote on Twitter after the meeting began that the Prime Minister would stay in the room until the meeting ends at 5 p.m.

The highly politicized meeting took place in the prime minister’s Langevin Block office, across the street from Parliament Hill.

Mr. Harper and Shawn Atleo, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, agreed to meet again within a month to continue their “high level dialogue” on comprehensive land claims.

About 20 First Nations leaders chose to attend the meeting, representing most areas of the country — even after a tumultuous night of talks that saw chief after chief reject the meeting because it was not on their turf or on their terms.

As the meeting began, thousands of protesters gathered in front of Parliament Hill.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Treasury Board Secretary Tony Clement attended the meeting along with Mr. Harper and the native leaders, according to a list circulated by the government.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, whom First Nations were hoping to meet to discuss a different way of sharing the bounty from natural resource extraction, was not on the list.

On the First Nations side, Manitoba, Ontario and Northwest Territories leaders stuck to their guns and did not send high-level representation, according to lists of attendees from the government and from the Assembly of First Nations.

Meanwhile, some First Nations leaders threatened on Friday morning to shut down major transportation corridors to stress the depth of their grievances with the Harper government.

Some chiefs said they were waiting Friday at an Ottawa hotel where they have been meeting all week for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to show up for a meeting.

Gordon Peters, the grand Chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians told reporters, that if Mr. Harper does not arrive at the hotel, “January 16 happens.”

“We are going to block all the corridors of this province,” said Mr. Peters. When asked what that means, he refused to be more specific. “Use your imagination,” he said. “We do.”

Chiefs in other provinces are making similar plans and have promised that the Idle No More movement, which has been spawning protests across Canada since December will escalate as a result of Mr. Harper’s unwillingness to bow to the will of the first nations.

Manitoba Grand Chief David Harper of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak said he chose not to attend the meeting with Mr. Harper, in solidarity with Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who has been on hunger strike for the past month.

"The fact is that we're dealing with a life or death situation here," he said.

He said that aboriginal people signed their treaties with the Crown – not the government – and that's why some leaders are insisting on the Governor General’s presence in a meeting.

“Why it’s so important we want that meeting with the Governor General and the Prime Minister in one room is to begin a process, to begin dialogue, and that’s basically what we’re after,” he said.

Mr. Harper said he wants the chiefs, the Prime Minister and the Governor-General to hold a second meeting that includes Ms. Spence and two other native leaders who are fasting along with her.

Mr. Johnston has agreed to hold a ceremonial meeting late Friday with the chiefs at Rideau Hall, but Ms. Spence says he and the Prime Minister must be in the same room together – something the Prime Minister will not accept. Governors-General do not normally get involved in the daily working of the government.

The Assembly of First Nations issued a list of demands on Friday afternoon, which include a “fundamental transformation” of first nations’ relationship with the federal government, action for vulnerable people and immediate remedies and change for aboriginal people.

Wearing headdresses and surrounded by people playing drums and waving placards, Grand Chief David Harper joined another Manitoba chief and elder Raymond Robinson in climbing the stairs and knocking on the door to one of the entrances to Langevin Block.

Meanwhile a crowd of about 3,000 people, according to police estimates, moved from Wellington Street and to the front of the Centre Block on Parliament Hill, brandishing flags and chanting along with the rhythmic beat of skin drums.

Speaking on the steps of Parliament Hill on Friday afternoon, Mr. Robinson, who is from Cross Lake, said he has been fasting for the past month and is demanding that Bill C-45, the omnibus budget bill, is repealed.

"We are one nation," he told the crowd over a loud speaker.

"If you want our lands... Over my dead body, Harper, are you going to take it."

The demonstrators began their march on Victoria Island, a nearby outcrop in the Ottawa River where Spence has been camped out for more than a month, subsisting on a diet of fish broth and medicinal tea.

Ms. Spence looked frail – her voice shaky and her speech a bit disjointed – as she met briefly with members of the media outside her makeshift island encampment prior to the march on Parliament Hill.

Aboriginal people now have an opportunity to hold the government to account for years of broken promises, she said. “This meeting’s been overdue for so many years.”

Ms. Spence also spoke for the first time about how her Ontario reserve spends government money, saying most of what flows to the isolated James Bay community actually gets spent outside the community.

She says the money goes to buy supplies and to pay contractors, consultants, lawyers – and to taxes.

“Most of the funding that we have, it goes back to you, to taxpayers,” she said in response to a question about reserve spending that was shouted over the objections of her handlers.

A government-ordered audit, leaked earlier this week, concluded there was little documentation to back up Attawapiskat’s spending.

Ms. Spence said she has been the victim of false statements about her reserve’s handling on money.

“It goes out of our reserve,” she said. “For example, if there’s housing, we have to hire contractors, we have to order the materials from out of town and the shipment, we pay tax on that.

“We hire lawyers… consultants – that’s where the money goes.”

Ms. Spence is expected to continue her hunger protest, since Friday’s meetings weren’t taking place according to the terms demanded by the chiefs – on their turf, with both Harper and Johnston together.

With files from Canadian Press

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