Support continues to grow for the jailed leader



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THUNDER BAY, Ont. _ Support continues to grow for the jailed leader of a northwestern Ontario aboriginal group as members of the Assembly of First Nations Women's Council participate in a 24-hour hunger strike ending Thursday evening.


This follows another 24-hour fast in support of Cecilia Begg waged by six members of the Nishnawbe-Aski women's council, which ended Wednesday.


The AFN protest includes women's council chairwoman Kathleen McHugh, British Columbia representative Chief Lisa Shaver and NAN Deputy Grand Chief RoseAnne Archibald.


“This is becoming a nation-wide fast,'' Archibald said Wednesday, referring to the surge of support for the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation leader.


“With its inaction to implement Supreme Court rulings regarding consultation and accommodation throughout the KI-Platinex litigation, the government of Ontario has created political martyrs who've sacrificed their freedom for the future of their community,'' she said.


“They've also created heroes who've raised the bar on protecting aboriginal and treaty rights.''


Begg, KI Chief Donny Morris, Deputy Chief Jack McKay, band councillors Sam McKay and Darryl Sainnawap, and band member Bruce Sakakeep were sentenced March 17 to six months in jail for civil contempt.


Superior Court Justice Patrick Smith imposed the penalty following a January conviction for the group's failure to obey a court order allowing junior exploration company Platinex Inc. access to land near the KI reserve, 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.


For Dora Beardy, the 24-hour hunger strike of six NAN councillors and one elder is not only physical but spiritual.


“I'm a Christian and I believe it's very powerful when you're fasting and praying at the same time,'' she said.


Archibald said Begg is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who shouldn't be in jail.


“These women are sacrificing food for 24 hours to support Cecilia's great sacrifice of her freedom,'' she said of the members of the NAN women's council, three of whom have diabetes.


“We want Cecilia Begg freed without any conditions. She's a political prisoner and a political martyr and based on what's happened she doesn't belong in jail,'' Archibald said.


Thursday, NAN Grand Chief Stan Beardy and chiefs from across NAN territory will welcome local and regional supporters of KI to a gathering at the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre.


First Nation leaders from across Ontario are to address the delegation.


(Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal)