OTTAWA - Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan says he is concerned about the health of a northern Ontario First Nation chief who is on a hunger strike near Parliament Hill.
In a letter sent to Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence on Tuesday, Duncan says he is worried about the leader's well-being and urges her to end her protest.
Spence has been on a hunger strike in a teepee on an island in the Ottawa River since Dec. 11 to focus public attention on aboriginal issues.
She is seeking a meeting with the prime minister, the governor general and First Nations leaders to discuss the government's relationship with First Nations.
The letter says Spence has been unresponsive to Duncan's offer of meeting with her or speaking to her by phone.
Duncan's letter also says Aboriginal Affairs is prepared to set up a working group between federal and First Nations representatives to discuss treaty and rights issues between Ottawa and aboriginal governments.
"I remain concerned about your health and hope that you will accept my offer to speak about how we might move forward with improving the treaty relationship," Duncan writes.
"It is unfortunate that you are unwilling to speak with me about the issues you have raised publicly."
Duncan's letter comes a day after Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau, who is Algonquin, tried unsuccessfully to meet with Spence.
Spence's hunger strike helped spark the national Idle No More movement, which in turn has spawned several protests and demonstrations — including an ongoing Sarnia, Ont., rail blockade.
Many of the protests are focused on denouncing the Harper government’s omnibus Bill C-45, which demonstrators claim eliminates treaty and aboriginal rights set out in the Constitution.