(Reuters) - Canadian native leaders vowed on Thursday to carry on the fight for better living conditions as a chief at the centre of a simmering aboriginal protest movement was hospitalized after ending her six-week hunger strike.
Chief Theresa Spence, from a remote northern Ontario reserve, ended the strike after holding negotiations with other aboriginal leaders and opposition lawmakers in the Canadian Parliament.
“There was an awakening here,” Danny Metatawabin, a spokesman for Spence, told a news conference in Ottawa. “Now we have to move forward.”
“The fight does not end because the hunger strike ends.”
Spence, who survived on a liquid diet while living in a tepee, was hospitalized for observation and could be released later today or Friday, Metatawabin said.
Spence travelled to Ottawa from her remote northern Canadian reserve in December and set up camp on an island in the Ottawa River in view of Parliament to raise awareness about poor living conditions for natives across Canada.
She was a flashpoint in a boisterous Canadian aboriginal protest movement called “Idle No More.” It began with four women in the province of Saskatchewan turning to Twitter and other social networks in a bid to rally North American natives.
They were protesting legislation by Canada’s Conservative government that they say promotes resource development while reducing environmental protection for lakes and rivers on their lands.
“These acts, these bills, they will kill us,” said Raymond Robinson, an aboriginal elder from Manitoba who also ended a six-week hunger strike on Thursday. “We just need our equal opportunities.”
Ottawa spends about C$11 billion ($11.1 billion) a year on its aboriginal population of 1.2 million. But living conditions for many are poor, and some reserves have high rates of poverty, addiction, joblessness and suicide.
Canadian native groups staged a day of action earlier this month with protests that included blocking a rail line and slowing traffic across an Ontario-to-Michigan bridge crucial to U.S.-Canadian trade.
Reporting By Russ Blinch; Editing by Xavier Briand