* Aboriginal leaders set to meet prime minister on Friday
* Many of Canada's 1.2 million aboriginals live in poverty
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, Jan 11 Deep splits emerged in the ranks
of Canada's aboriginal movement on Friday, casting doubt on a
planned meeting between chiefs and Conservative Prime Minister
Stephen Harper to discuss a series of native grievances.
Native leaders say the growing aboriginal Idle No More
protest movement is prepared to block highways and prevent
resource development unless Ottawa does more to tackle the poor
living conditions and high jobless rates facing many of Canada's
1.2 million aboriginals.
Harper, under pressure from an Ontario native leader on a
month-long hunger strike in Ottawa, had agreed to meet senior
chiefs in his office at 1 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Friday.
Hours before the session was scheduled to begin, Teresa
Spence, the hunger-striking leader, was insisting that the
meeting include more natives and Governor-General David
Johnston, the official representative of Queen Elizabeth,
Canada's head of state. Johnston has already said he will not
attend, saying it is not his place to get involved in policy
Spence said she would not attend the meeting unless Johnston
Native groups complain successive Canadian governments have
ignored treaties that aboriginals signed with British settlers
and explorers hundreds of years ago, treaties they say granted
them significant rights over their territory.
"We shared the land all these years and we never got
anything from it. All the benefits are going to Canadian
citizens, except for us," Spence told reporters.
"It's important for the government and the governor-general
to understand about the treaties," she said. "This government
has been abusing us, raping the land."
Spence's stance underlines divisions inside the native
community and the challenges facing Shawn Atleo, leader of the
Assembly of First Nations umbrella group, which represents 633
THREAT TO ATLEO
Atleo said on Thursday he would attend the meeting with
Harper, even in the absence of Johnston. If he does so, some
chiefs have suggested they could propose a motion of
no-confidence in his leadership.
In another indication of internal divisions, chiefs from the
province of Manitoba said on Friday that instead of sitting down
with Harper in his office, they wanted to meet both the prime
minister and Johnston in an Ottawa hotel.
"If they do not show up, we will take to the streets with
our people," Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said in a
statement. Nepinak said on Thursday that aboriginal activists
have the power to bring the Canadian economy to its knees.
Nepinak and other Manitoba chiefs are also demanding that
Ottawa rescind parts of two recent budget acts that they say
reduce environmental protection for lakes and rivers, and make
it easier to sell lands on the reserves where many natives live.
Ottawa spends around C$11 billion ($11.1 billion) a year on
its aboriginal population, yet living conditions for many are
poor, and some reserves have high rates of poverty, addiction,
joblessness and suicide.