US & Canada

Seven Native Canadians finish arduous protest trek

David Kawapit after finishing a 1600km (994 mile) trek to Ottawa, Canada 25 March 2013
Image caption David Kawapit was one of the young men who undertook the journey

Seven young Native Canadian men have finished a 1,600km (1,000-mile) trek to the Canadian capital in protest against living conditions on reserves.

Their journey from Whapmagoostui, Quebec, to Ottawa began in January and included travel by snowshoe and sled.

They were joined by demonstrators on the way, with hundreds arriving outside the Canadian parliament on Monday.

The men, aged between 17 and 21, were due to meet Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt later.

"This is not the end. We started with a walk but our movement will continue," said 18-year-old David Kawapit in his native language, Cree, with use of an interpreter.

A 44-day hunger fast in December and January by Theresa Spence, one of Canada's tribal chiefs, raised the profile of the Idle No More protest.

They triggered road and rail blockades, dozens of demonstrations and emergency talks between First Nations leaders and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Following those discussions, Mr Harper agreed to continue "high-level dialogue" with the leaders.

Critics say little has been achieved to address a severe shortage of housing and schools on the reserves.

Native leaders said that in addition to acute poverty, they opposed changes made in November to environmental laws.

They say the changes would affect their hunting and fishing rights, as well as their ability to lease land to non-Native tenants.

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