"First Nations People in Canada are supported by Montana Native Legislators. We stand as one."

Photos and Story By Natalie Noel©
Special to News From Indian Country - January 2013

On a history changing Thursday, January 3, 2013 Senator Jonathan Windy Boy from Montana said, "I would like to sing a Praising Song at the end of the ceremony today. It is a song that was drifting on the wind, while I was coming down after a fast in a place of extraordinary power, a place of much sacredness and beauty. The song was just passing over me and I found myself singing it. The people at table will understand these words, 'Thank you, my Creator for giving me Life. Thank you my Creator for giving me movement.'  (Premier Eric Robinson, Ray Robinson
and Senator Windy Boy featured in picture at left)
 
At 1:00 in the afternoon the people at table in Room 208 in the Legislative Building at 450 Broadway in Winnipeg, Manitoba were: The Honorable Eric Robinson, Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs; Tina Keeper, former Member of Parliament for the Federal Constituency of Churchill; Rob Ballantyne, Secretary, Aboriginal Issues Committee of Cabinet (AICC); David Chadwick, Special Advisor to the Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs; Cory Young, AICC; Jackie Joss, Special Assistant to the Minister; Matthew Williamson, Executive Council, Cabinet Communications; Dave Gaudreau, Member of Legislative Assembly for the Provincial Constituency of St. Norbert; Councilor Rhonda Abraham, Black River First Nation; this journalist and Senator Jonathan Windy Boy, Montana. Senator Windy Boy never had a chance to sing his song, not on that day.

With Deputy Premiere Eric Robinson presiding, a peaceful, near reverent humility settled over the room. He questioned kindly of the brothers and sisters seated around him, what to do? "We want a non-combative approach to the Prime Minister and Crown, less political and more in the spirit of reconciliation."
 
Grave concern for the health and well-being of Attawapiskat First Nations leader, Chief Theresa Spence, well over three weeks into her hunger strike, was foremost in the hearts and on the lips of all at table. Still, Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to meet with her and to consult with First Nations leaders. Worry too was expressed for Raymond Robinson, camping out near Chief Spence and fasting in solidarity with her and for nearly as long. Both were willing to sacrifice their lives for, in Tina Keeper's strong words "the rightful request to discuss the Aboriginal and Treaty rights as a solution to poverty and great disparity for Aboriginal people in Canada."
 
Respect for peaceful process of demonstration, focus on human dignity and water issues, and a gentle appreciation for the grass roots beginnings of Idle No More and the four women who began the movement, reverberated throughout the room. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples applies to the issues under consideration. Senator Jonathon Windy Boy defended the Declaration by saying, "Our ancestors were the keepers and caretakers of the land, its creatures and its resources, since the beginning of time. Yet First Nations people have always been under attack. The eight Native Legislators in Montana have given me their wholehearted blessing and the privilege to speak for them today. I have traveled here to say, the First Nations People in Canada are supported by the Montana Native Legislators. We stand as one."
 
"Government should act honorably and affirm the UN Declaration. The Crown cannot ride rough-shod over Indigenous interests,"agreed former MP Tina Keeper.
 
"I have to stop for a moment and talk to Senator, like Indians do. I had a vision. Four women leaders and I went into a tent. There was a woman there. We embraced her and we brought her out. I don't know, what does it mean? Anything? Nothing?"
 
Senator Windy Boy, listened and was quiet for a while. Then he nodded. He spoke of the People, Caucasian, Black, Asian, Native and the brotherhood inherent therein. "We have an obligation to ensure the inherent rights of all people. Our ancestors sacrificed and gave up their lives believing in agreements and treaties to ensure the survival of all of us. We are now seated at a place our ancestors looked up to see. And now is the time when all the brotherhood, all the peoples of the world will stand as one. This is our bond, this is our word and this is our future."
 
Special Advisor David Chadwick added,"If this meeting fails, it will not be good for the country."
 
The meeting did not fail.
 
At 2:30 p.m. Deputy Premier Robinson's phone rang. He ordered a short break and left the room for a call.
 
"Let's go to Ottawa." Deputy Eric Robinson said when he returned. The call had been from The Honourable Chris Bentley, Ontario Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Toronto, and the decision to visit Chief Spence was made.
 
Senator Windy Boy, who hadn't slept in two days, concurred. As did all at table. Jackie Joss, Amanda Abraham and David Chadwick agreed to accompany the Deputy Minister and the Senator to Ottawa. By 3:20 the meeting was adjourned At 7:55 these tireless few were in flight, bearing good will to Chief Theresa Spence.
 
They arrived near midnight and shortly after daybreak, a miracle?
 
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER ANNOUNCES MEETING WITH FIRST NATIONS LEADERSHIP
(direct quotes following are from the press release dated, January 4, 2013 by Moira Wolstenholme Regional Advisor for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba/Policy Advisor to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development)
 
One can only wonder? Did the Prime Minister hear the big Montana leader and the Winnipeg Deputy were headed, with posse, to check on the health of Chief Spence? The answer, of course is 'Yes.' The unknowable question, the unanswerable is: What did it make him feel?
 
"Prime Minister Stephen Harper today issued the following statement on a planned meeting with a delegation of First Nations leaders coordinated by the Assembly of First Nations:"
 
One can only wonder? Did the meeting in room 208 the day before, have anything to do with his change of heart, change of schedule or agenda?
Meanwhile, on January 4, 2013 back in Ottawa, Senator Jonathan Windy Boy spent and hour and a half with Raymond Robinson. "He's good. His main message is the whole objective for the movement is peaceful, not radical. This has become so great, international, has reached farther than we could ever have imagined. But we remained focused, this is a peaceful place, an olive branch to all."
 
Chief Spence and Mr. Robinson have vowed to continue fasting until the outcome of the meeting with the Prime Minister is understood and made widely available to First Nations People in Canada, the US and abroad.
 
In closing, Senator Windy Boy reminds us. "I stepped forward to try and help the Deputy Minister and our brothers and sisters in Canada, so they see we are united, we stand as one. We ask for the attentions of the UN, the Secretary of State, anyone who will listen, anyone who cares about human rights. We're one family and one call for one thing. Dignity."
 
One can only wonder, did he finally sing his song? Yes, albeit a different one, a prayer/praise/blessing/victory song, a song of everything.
Natalie Noel is on location in Winnipeg, Canada
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