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Roger Augustine, Regional Chief for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, speaks to the 32nd Annual General Assembly of the Assembly of First Nations in Moncton, July 12, 2011. (David Smith/The Canadian Press)
Roger Augustine, Regional Chief for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, speaks to the 32nd Annual General Assembly of the Assembly of First Nations in Moncton, July 12, 2011. (David Smith/The Canadian Press)

Chief Spence hurting her own cause and AFN's, interim leader says Add to ...

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s public pursuit of her cause is “becoming a concern” and could make it harder for Assembly of First Nations representatives to do their jobs, one of the organization’s leaders says.

Roger Augustine, regional chief for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, made the comments after Ms. Spence appeared on a political talk show Sunday morning.

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“I don’t think it helps, to be honest with you,” said Mr. Augustine, who is chairing AFN executive meetings while National Chief Shawn Atleo is on sick leave.

“You know, let us do our jobs, as the Assembly of First Nations’ chiefs executive. Let us do our job. I don’t think she can do or say anything at this point to influence the Prime Minister.”Ms. Spence has been subsisting on tea and fish stock since Dec. 11 and suggested on Sunday that she would continue her hunger strike until Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor-General David Johnston meet at the same time with first nations leaders. The Northern Ontario chief’s stand has helped make her a prominent figure among those involved in Idle No More. The grassroots movement has galvanized first nations activists as they express frustration over recent federal legislation.

In her interview with CTV’s Question Period on Sunday morning, Ms. Spence said she was unsatisfied with the meeting that took place earlier this month between Mr. Harper and some chiefs, calling it a “working group” when native leaders had asked for a “nation-to-nation” meeting.

Asked what he thought of the interview, Mr. Augustine said: “It’s becoming a concern.”

“I think right now she should somehow respect our process in terms of the Assembly of First Nations.”

Mr. Augustine said he was speaking in his capacity as a regional chief, adding that Mr. Atleo has consistently supported Ms. Spence in her hunger strike.

Ms. Spence did not respond on Sunday to requests for a follow-up interview made through her spokesman.

At the end of the Jan.11 meeting, Mr. Harper told Mr. Atleo that the two leaders would have to take time to consult with their own people – Mr. Harper with his cabinet and Mr. Atleo with the other chiefs – and said they should meet one-on-one in the coming weeks.

In the interim, the AFN executive decided to ask for an additional meeting – this time with both Mr. Harper and Mr. Johnston. Some native leaders, including Ms. Spence, have insisted on the Governor-General’s presence because first nation treaties were signed with the Crown. The group prepared a letter on Saturday asking for that meeting to be scheduled on Jan. 24.

A spokeswoman from the Prime Minister’s Office said in an e-mail: “As we said following the last meeting, the Prime Minister will be meeting with the National Chief [Atleo] in the coming weeks.”

Mr. Augustine said he’s not sure what will come of a second meeting with the Prime Minister and the Governor-General, if it occurs. “The big question is now, OK, what if we do have this meeting, with the Prime Minister and the Governor-General, I think the results and the direction will be exactly what we got from the Prime Minister last week,” he said.

Asked if he was satisfied with the initial meeting with Mr. Harper, Mr. Augustine said the outcome was “better than what we had before we went in there.”

Despite apparent differences on a first nations agenda, Mr. Augustine said he believes most people want the same results.

“When you take a look at some of the voices that you hear from different parts of Canada, like issues on treaties, issues on comprehensive land claims, issues on the inquiry [into missing and murdered aboriginal women], we’re all saying the same thing,” he said. “It’s just that everyone has a different time frame. Some would like to have answers immediately, and some are demanding that the Governor-General and the Prime Minister be in the same room.”

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