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.