Supporters presented Chief Theresa Spence with gifts, gratitude and praise on Thursday January 24 as the Attawapiskat First Nation leader arrived from the hospital after a brief stay and signed the 13-point Declaration of Commitment that she had crafted before ending her six-week-long liquid fast.
Spence looked well and spoke clearly after settling into the meeting room at the Delta Hotel in Ottawa.
"I'm honored to be here to see this Declaration of Commitment that's been signed by our chiefs and the liberal government and the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations," she said when the room had stopped erupting in cheers and applause upon her arrival.
Calling for unity among her fellow chiefs—divisions had erupted when the AFN leadership and other chiefs had met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on January 11 despite the fact that it did not meet their criteria of also including Governor General David Johnston to represent the Crown—she said that she would let them take it from here.
"There you go, chiefs, you take over and I'll be part of the audience some times, so I'll be watching you guys," Spence said, calling for unity among First Nations leaders. "It's time to really stay together no matter what hardship that we go through, and no matter what the government intends to do to us to divide us. Always remember that we're here together and we're here for our people, especially the youth."
Her appearance in Ottawa coincided with one by AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, who returned from a doctor-ordered medical leave on January 24 to attend a special chiefs assembly at the Musqueam Community Recreation Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia. He too was honored by First Nations leaders in a ceremony.
Both leaders spoke about the way forward and their insistence on a nation-to-nation partnership as well as justice and human rights.
The status quo, not the establishment or the prime minister, is the enemy, Atleo told his gathering. It's "not working not only for First Nations, it's also not working for Canadians and it's not working for governments," he said. "And so we need to with great haste seize on this moment and say that we're not going to let it go by."
Moreover, the momentum of the grassroots Idle No More movement will continue, he added.
"Make no mistake, the energy that's coming from our people is not going anywhere," Atleo said, according to CBC News.
Spence's fellow faster Manitoba Elder Raymond Robinson, also present in Ottawa, said the past six weeks have been a journey, a roller-coaster ride, and that the goal was merely to get Canadians to recognize the founding role that aboriginals played in the founding of the nation and to see that Indigenous Peoples are also human.
"Can't we have the same opportunities that you guys have on a daily basis?" he said to the assembled media. "Can we all get along? Can I be received as a human being in my own land? Can I be acknowledged as a contributing member of this land?"
He said he had attended three residential schools, and pointed out that the original European settlers had survived only under First Nations' tutelage.
"Learn that we are part of this society," he said, "and we're not going anywhere. We just need our equal opportunities. We just need our place on our soil."