Chief Theresa Spence — A Moral Hero
I have been wondering, over the past days, how to tackle the subject of Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, the “Idle No More” movement, and the treatment of First Nations people by the Canadian government. My disappointment in Prime Minister Harper and his government grows with every hour.
I am a Canadian with English, Irish and Mohawk blood. Because the Mohawk part of me comes from my father’s side of the family tree and Mohawk’s are a matrilineal people, I received my name and my clan from an Ojibwe Elder. I am proud of being Canadian and proud of my genetic heritage.
But it’s difficult to be proud of the Canadian government at the moment. Here’s the issue:
About two weeks ago, Attawapiskat Chief, Theresa Spence a 49-year old mother of five daughters attended a meeting of chiefs at a national gathering and heard (once again) of the dreadful problems affecting their people, problems which also affect her people. She embarked on a hunger strike, saying she will fast until the federal government gives in to her demand for a meeting among first nations, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a representative of the Crown. As of this writing, she has been fasting for 15 days, consuming only water, fish broth and medicinal tea.Chief Spence says she is prepared to die, if necessary.
Surely it won’t come to that. Surely Prime Minister Harper, who lives only an 8 minute drive from where Chief Spence is fasting, will have the good sense to sit down, as requested, and talk with this woman.
I understand that in order to do so, PM Harper will have to deal with those who say Chief Spence is engaging in a form of blackmail. I understand that he will have to swallow his considerable pride. That will be a big meal, I’m sure. And perhaps, in this era in which it seems more important to “win” than to be compassionate, more important to wield power than to love justice, it is to much to ask, especially of a man who hasn’t shown much interest in what anyone thinks up to this moment.
Justin Trudeau, a Member of Parliament and son of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has met with Chief Spence and said he found the experience inspiring.
I can’t imagine anyone turning down an opportunity for inspiration.
There are some, too, who have criticized Chief Spence for not agreeing to meet with John Duncan, the federal minister for Indian Affairs. However, as the Globe & Mail reported:
“I didn’t ask for Minister Duncan,” she [Chief Spence]said. “And I have dealt with him before. When I observe him, he doesn’t have a mind of his own because, before he would answer a question, he would always look at his people. He’s not the Prime Minister.”
Her demand, she said, is a meeting with Mr. Harper and the representative of the Crown, presumably Governor-General David Johnston.
I don’t blame her. The Department of Indian Affairs hasn’t, perhaps, been the best friend of First Nations peoples in the past.
You would think the Prime Minister of Canada would understand the truly appalling conditions First Nations people contend with, as outlined, for example, in this article. You’d think he’d be so ashamed, and so broken-hearted, that he would rush to meet with anyone who might help him erase this kind of suffering. Wouldn’t you? But that would take a Big Man. Is he a Big Man? We’ll see.
This is not an isolated movement. It’s circling the globe. Indigenous people around the world are joining the demonstrations, as one can see from this Facebook page.
I am ashamed of the Prime Minister’s response to Chief Spence. I am ashamed he feels no shame.
So, what to do? Well, you can start by “Liking” the Facebook page for “Idle No More” . You can attend a demonstration in your area. You can sign a petition. This one calls for an immediate No-Confidence Vote against Stephen Harper. This one, by Avaaz.org says you stand with Indigenous People. You can send your words and prayers of support to Chief Spencer via Twitter — @chieftheresa You can call your MP, if you’re Canadian. You can read up on Bill C-45, which which changes land use and resource policies and undermines environmental laws, dramatically undermining the ability of Indigenous communities in Canada to protect their land.
And you can pray — for Chief Theresa, for Stephen Harper, for our Earth, and for all of us.
Thank you for listening.
Meegwetch! Let’s hope somebody talks Mr Harper down from his throne before it is too late.
Yes, let’s hope Harper wakes up. One can dream, yes?
Lauren, I had read about Chief Spence and the Idle No More movement, but hadn’t completely understood the context until your essay. Thanks for clarifying the issue. I share your concern and hope Prime Minister Harper and the Governer General of Canada do meet with Chief Spence without more delay and jointly find a better way forward.
Thanks, Jennifer. Your hopes are mine.
A reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent me a person email about this blog. She has given me permission to post the following part of her comments:
“There is one other way that people can act and that is to either email Harper email@example.com or write him at:
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
and remember, postage is free.
Very little seems to penetrate this man’s skin but without a doubt, the thing he cares most about is how he is perceived on the global stage. More then anything he wants to be seen as a world leader but what he doesn’t understand is that the truly great world leaders walk hand in hand with compassion.
Letters and emails may be handled by his minions but if enough tell him that this will harm his image, sad to say, he will act and then let’s just hope it is with compassion and not force.”
To which I say — ABSOLUTELY! And thank you.
I am not of Native Blood myself, but my 2 sons are of Native Blood from their fathers side of the family (Ojibway & Maite’) and very proud of their Native Heritage.
I read resently about a Native Tibe in the US going straight to the UN because the American Gov. wouldn’t stop mining on their land. The UN ruled that the American Gov. was to cease and desist.
If something like this could be arranged then Cheif Theresa Spence could completely bye pass Harper completely and this wouldn’t look very good on him.
My prayers are with Cheif Theresa Spence and the Idle No More movement that something is done soon.
Thanks for your comment, Irene. My prayers go with yours.
Lauren I am actually shocked about the development of Canadian politic after the death of Jack Layton,the warm hearted ,loving person who could have become PM of Canada.
If my words are meant for Theresa Spence,then I ask you to forward my mail to her which I have sent you about half an hour ago.
I feel with the Native people,I always have.
Therese,you can be sure of my spiritual support.
thanks for your comment. Jack Layton’s passing was a great loss for all of us. I, too, would have loved to see him become PM.
I didn’t receive an email from you, but even if I had, I don’t have a person email address for Chief Spence and thus wouldn’t be able to forward a message to her. However, you can find her on Twitter — @ChiefTheresa — and I’m sure on FB also.
Again, many thanks. Lauren
Heidi Banerjee to Lauren B. Davis
Hello,Lauren.I am glad you are back at OS.
I have tried several times to come to your website.This time it’s different I hope,and I continue reading.
There is a lady on OS who is also Ojibwe,and one of her brothers lives in BC.I wonder if you know her.
She hasn’t been posting for a long time.
I know that she is working on a book.
I have lived in Canada for a long time,and the Native problem has always been a major topic for me.I am sorry to hear that this woman is on hunger strike.
A friend of mine has worked as a teacher in reservation areas.The second one was very difficult.I have had the impression that people in this region were lost to themselves and to the Canadian society.I wish I could help.
If there were a job offer in the social field,I think I would take it,as I have always wanted to do this type of work.
I’ll be in Canada in February and the beginning of
Where do you live?
Happy New Year!
Hi,Lauren,this is the letter I have sent you this afternoon on OS.
It’s late here.Iwill get in touch with Chief Theresa tomorrow.
What a sad world we live in.
Before my son was born I worked in a day care centre in which we have had a beautiful “Half breed”.His father was German.I often think about this boy wondering what has become of him.
i am from the campbell river band …..pierre and margaret trudea came and met my great grandmother at cape mudge…….i was very proud that his son justin met with chief teresa…. steven harper should be ashamed ……
Hello Fran — thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I thought it was wonderful Justin Trudeau met with Chief Spence. Harper says he’ll meet with FNs on Friday . . . but I have little hope he’ll do anything more than find a photo op. He should be ashamed. You’re quite right.
Given the scathing financial audit, how can you maintain that Miss Spence is a hero. She got her meeting with Prime Minister Harper and then said she would not attend because the GG wouldn’t be there. The GG is nothing more than a figurehead and makes absolutely no policy on how Canada is run. (She had the big fish on the hook). I honestly do want to see the lives of FN people get better… Much better. But there has to be a radical change in how we finance these Reserves. Certainly around accountability. Once the money is being spent on what it was allocated for, the lives of those people will improve considerably. I thank Theresa Spence for bringing the issue to light. Now FN people will receive the resources that they DO deserve. I realize that this post will probably be taken down or not even get up due to it not going to the tune of Miss Spence’s bid for martyrdom, but it needs to be said. For all First Nations People that don’t get a voice. That can’t complain for fear of reprisal or no access to media. (There’s a reason the media were kicked off the reserve) my prayers go the poor people living in third world conditions Lauren… Not Theresa Spence.
Thanks for your comment, Robert. When it comes to finances on reserves — it’s a horrible and complicated issue with more than enough blame to go round, I’m sure . . .http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/01/05/first-nations-audits-infrastructure.html or http://www.thebeaverton.com/national/item/556-first-nations-audit-of-federal-government-reveals-billions-in-mismanaged-funds
I admire Chief Spence because she has taken on this fast as a way to bring attention to what’s happening, not only to her people, but to the environment through Bill C-45. Is she a saint? I think not. But then again, I know so few saints . . . 😉 That doesn’t stop her from being, in my opinion, a moral hero in regards to this specific issue and action. You are certainly free to disagree — I’m just hopeful that with all this conversation going on, in so many places, something good may result.
And my understanding is that the GG will now be at that meeting. You may consider the GG only a figurehead, but the GG is the representative of the Crown, and therefore is historically important to FN relations. I don’t have space here to write an essay on the historical relationship between nations, but the information is certainly out there.
I’m surprised you think I wouldn’t allow you to post. All are welcome here, as long as discourse is courteous. Unless we talk, how shall we possibly learn about each other?
And we can certainly agree that a conversation on the living conditions of FN people is long overdue, perhaps we can even agree that environmental protections should not be removed from the waterways.
Again, it is my hope nothing but good shall come of all this. Can we agree on that?
Amen to that.
For those of you interested in the “audit” question — here’s another take, this one from Elizabeth May, Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands and Leader of the Green Party of Canada.: http://elizabethmaymp.ca/news/publications/articles/2013/01/09/the-attawapiskat-audit-distracting-us-from-a-legacy-of-failure/