Canada PM says will meet with native leaders amid protests

OTTAWA Fri Jan 4, 2013 11:46am EST

OTTAWA Jan 4 (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet with native leaders on Jan. 11, his office announced on Friday, after weeks of aboriginal protests and a hunger strike by one chief that has run into its third week.

Harper said the meeting would address two key issues: the treaty relationship between the government and native groups and aboriginal rights, as well as economic development. He described it as a follow-up to a meeting that took place in January 2012.

"While some progress has been made, there is more that must be done to improve outcomes for First Nations communities across Canada," Harper said in a written statement.

Many of Canada's 1.2 million aboriginals live on reserves where conditions are often dismal, including poor drinking water, poverty, addiction and high suicide rates. Treaties signed with the government a century ago allow for financing of their health and education in a system that many experts say is now dysfunctional.

The Jan. 11 meeting will be coordinated by the Assembly of First Nations, which groups together more than 600 communities.

Harper's statement made no mention of a protest movement dubbed "Idle No More" that has erupted over recent weeks, initially against legislation that activists say Harper rushed through Parliament without proper consultation with native groups and which affects their land and treaty rights.

Chief Theresa Spence from the northern Ontario Attawapiskat community started a fast on Dec. 11 to highlight those concerns. She has been staying in a teepee just a few meters (feet) from Parliament Hill.

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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