Dear Prime Minister Harper:
We write with urgency to implore you to meet with Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence, as soon as possible. We are very concerned for her wellbeing in the second week of her hunger strike.
We share her extreme frustration about the many recent cuts to social programs, and actions like the just-passed omnibus Bill C-45. As Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn Atleo said in his December 16 open letter, Chief Spence’s hunger strike calls attention to “the dire conditions which many First Nations communities and peoples face,” and protests “the disrespect and shameful treatment of First Nations by the Government of Canada.”
We urge you to hear, as we do, the pain and determination that underlie Chief Spence’s actions, and her statement that “I’m willing to die for my people because the pain is too much and it’s time for the government to realize what (it’s) doing to us.” Her pain is shared by many Indigenous communities and their leaders, and by many, many non-Aboriginal Canadians who wish to end the legacy of colonization, inequality and abuse, and live in justice and right relations between mainstream Canada and the First Peoples.
We state clearly and unequivocally that we stand in solidarity with Chief Spence’s statement that “Canada is violating the right of Aboriginal peoples to be self-determining and continues to ignore (their) constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty rights in their lands, waters, and resources.”
As one of the Christian bodies that ran Indian Residential Schools in collaboration with the Canadian government, The United Church of Canada shares Canada’s colonial legacy. In 1986, our denomination apologized to Aboriginal peoples for confusing “Western ways and culture with the depth and breadth and length and height of the gospel of Christ.” In 1998, we apologized specifically to former residential schools students and their families, for the damage we inflicted in the residential schools process.
The challenge to all of us is to walk the road of justice and reconciliation. We encourage you to meet in good faith with Chief Spence before her health is further endangered by this hunger strike.
Charlie Angus, who stood by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence as she began her fast on Dec. 11, says he’s now reaching out to area chiefs to see what steps can be taken to solve what’s at risk of becoming a national crisis.
“This is much bigger than Theresa Spence, it’s much bigger than any individual community,” Angus said Thursday as he prepared to travel to Ottawa to visit Spence on Friday.
“This is across the country now, it really needs the prime minister to take action.”
Spence launched her protest earlier this month with a vow to “die” unless the Conservative government started showing more respect to First Nations concerns and aboriginal treaties.
She is demanding a meeting between the Crown, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations leaders to create a new relationship.
Her remote northern Ontario reserve was catapulted into the spotlight late last year after Angus wrote about the dire housing and economic conditions.
The crisis in Attawapiskat was followed by a historic Crown-First Nations gathering in Ottawa in January, where Harper met with aboriginal leadership to discuss economic and social development.
They had agreed to produce a report in one year’s time on progress made since the summit and in late November, Harper met with Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Shawn Atleo.
A spokesman for the prime minister pointed to that meeting when asked directly why Harper has so far refused to sit down with Spence.
“We are willing and ready to work with partners who are willing to take concrete action to improve conditions on reserve,” Andrew MacDougall said in an email.
via … www.huffingtonpost.ca
Idle No More. Nasa people support First Nations
From our ancestral territories, the Nasa people, part of the Indigenous Movement of the Cauca, Colombia, honors the resistance of the Indigenous peoples of Canada. We join your struggles and your genuine actions of resistance against the occupation and dispossession that are being imposed in favor of the multinationals and the project of Death.
El pueblo Nasa del Movimiento Indígena del Cauca, Colombia, saluda y se une desde los territorios ancestrales a las diversas acciones legítimas de resistencia que vienen caminando los pueblos indígenas desde Canadá, ante la ocupación y el depojo que se impone a través de las transnacionales y el Proyecto de Muerte.
Greg Macdougall worked with Taiaiake Alfred to produce a pamphlet for the Idle No More movement. It’s of a piece he and Tobold Rollo have written, entitled “Resetting and Restoring the Relationship between Indigenous Peoples and Canada” and we’ve got it in three different languages.
It’s a one-page, double-sided PDF file for easy printing and folding into something you can hand out to people in order to spread the word about Idle No More and what might constitute a positive way to move forward on Aboriginal rights in Canada.
Here are the pamphlet files in the three languages: Please Share …
Native peoples in this country have endured much worse than the disrespect Prime Minister Harper showed on Dec 21, tweeting about “mmm… bacon” while Attiwapiskat Chief Theresa Spence was on Day 11 of a hunger strike that won’t end unless he agrees to a meeting between himself, the Governor General and First Nations leaders including Spence.
But it is precisely at this point where respect would be worth so much. We have an uprising in this country for Native sovereignty, the Idle No More movement. This in a country where Harper ‘apologized’ for genocidal residential schools, yet the next year claimed on the world stage that Canada didn’t have a history of colonialism, and where the residential schools Truth and Reconcialition Commission has just had to turn to the courts in order to get the government to turn over the historical records that it needs to do its job.
And in Chief Spence’s community of Attawapiskat, when they were experiencing a housing crisis in the winter cold last year, Harper ‘took leadership’ of the situation by removing management of the community from the chief and council and putting it under third-party management, which a court later ruled was it was wrong to do. But contrary to what Jian Ghomeshi said (in an otherwise great piece) about Chief Spence being on hunger strike to get Harper to meet with her to discuss the situation on her reserve, Spence is in fact doing this on behalf of all Aboriginal people in Canada (and especially for the youth).
There is some recognition in this country that Aboriginal people have been unjustly treated, that there is validity to this movement to take the government to account and to demand better. And as such, the potential for broad public support for this movement is there. (And for those who cling to justifications against Native peoples, Maclean’s has helpfully deciphered those arguments).
Chief Spence’s actions are serving to supercharge this movement.
Idle No More started in Saskatchewan in November, and caught on through social media. It was this grassroots pressure, their people urging them to stand up against the government, that catalyzed some chiefs, who were having a meeting in Gatineau, to impromptly march to Parliament where a few tried to enter the House of Commons, causing a brief scuffle between them and security.
Chief Spence started her fast as the Idle No More movement continued to gather steam. She seems to have taken the lead from the grassroots people, and in turn they have taken her lead.
Some in the public sphere have urged caution or shown disapproval for her actions: Patrick Brazeau, a Native senator appointed by Harper best known for his boxing match with Justin Trudeau, stated that he thought she wasn’t setting a good example for Aboriginal youth; Kate Heartfield of the Ottawa Citizen warns that this isn’t the way to deal with a government headed by Harper; and NDP MP Charlie Angus worries that this type of potential martyrdom could lead to the type of strife experienced in Northern Ireland.
But in a lot of the reporting and discussion around the hunger strike, the very act of a hunger strike or fast is seemingly not understood fully.
Like many other hunger strikers, Chief Spence is issuing a demand that must be fulfilled for her to start eating again. But she is also engaging in a practice that is very much part of spiritual traditions of First Nations’ culture.
I had the opportunity earlier this year to hear about fasting in a Native context, at a talk on Aboriginal perspectives on mental health. Carol Hopkins explained the cultural importance and philosophy behind such practice, telling a story of the power of doing without, of praying, of the intent that others have some first, and of how it is not about doing only for yourself, but doing it for everyone.
In this context, a fast/hunger stike as part of Idle No More (along with the many prayer ceremonies, drumming, round dance flash mobs, etc that have been happening) shows how the very Native culture that the people are standing up for is very much alive and experiencing a (re)surgence that can be a point of hope and solidarity in this country racked with so much present and historical pain and amnesia.
As poet/musician and former American Indian Movement leader John Trudell writes in the last stanza of his poem ‘This Idle No More‘:
a real fast way to protect the spirit is to feed the spirit
real-ity of fast, a real fast, let the human sacrifice food
as well thought out decision not in emotional reaction
ceremony in spiritual offerings of self in physical groups
or alone, or together not alone, stand fast in idle no more
the ones who can, stand fast together in different places
stand fast real-ity fast together join the grandmothers fast
In Ottawa this past Wednesday, there was a community feast to feed Chief Spence’s spirit as she continued her fast. This was another example of how fasting is not only an individual endeavour, but something that is supported by — just as much as it is in support of — the broader health of the community.
As some are engaged in solidarity fasting with Chief Spence, and so many more have her and the cause in her prayers, perhaps another way to be in support is to be mindful in your eating to be not only feeding yourself but also her spirit and that of all engaged in this awakening, this (re)surgence, this whatever you would describe it as.
A post I saw on facebook put it this way:
Chief Spence said the pain had just become too much – she is trying in her way To Make Medicine Out of Pain. … Chief Spence has presented a bridge to the real great divide in Canada – between the First Peoples and the rest of us – and it is an Indigenous bridge – not the non-native bridge of law and rights and bureaucracy. She is sharing her pain and her heart in a very visible way, and in her way – in a sense it is the spirit of the Friendship and Welcoming and Sharing Wampum, inviting us all to her heart.
The bridge she is creating is not only unifying Native peoples in this country, but also offering the whole country a way forward.
Someone commented that this movement is being seen as ‘almost as big as Oka,’ referring to the moment in Canadian history that catalyzed Native pride perhaps as never before. Perhaps this present moment can catalyze a unified movement large enough to bring about lasting practical and structural change in the relationship between the Canadian state and the original peoples of this land, and between all of us who call this land home.
Greg Macdougall is an activist and writer who maintains the website EquitableEducation.ca
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In a Dec. 16 editorial, the Star rightly called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet with Chief Theresa Spence, now in her 10th day of a hunger strike. It rightly drew attention to the ongoing housing crisis at Attawapiskat First Nation. Yet, it missed the big picture.
Spence’s hunger strike is not just about Attawapiskat. It is not just about housing or school funding. And it is not just about the omnibus budget Bill C-45, which eliminates federally protected waterways and facilitates the sale of reserve lands without consultation. It is about all of that and more.
Spence’s hunger strike is part of the Idle No More movement, which, in a matter of days, has become the largest, most unified, and potentially most transformative Indigenous movement at least since the Oka resistance in 1990.
The fundamental issue is the nation-to-nation treaty relationship with Indigenous peoples that Canadian governments repeatedly flout by passing legislation without free, prior and informed consent.
Harper and the Governor-General (as Crown representative) must meet with Chief Spence and other First Nations leaders, to not only discuss this relationship but take concrete action to repair it.
Idle No More is not a sudden case of “mass hysteria.” If one were paying attention, one could feel the movement brewing for years.
On June 11, 2008, Harper apologized for the residential school system and promised to forge “a new relationship” based on “partnership” and “respect.” Some people believed — or wanted to believe — that things would change.
Unfortunately, actions speak louder than words. Since 2008, the Harper government has cut aboriginal health funding, gutted environmental review processes, ignored the more than 600 missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada, withheld residential school documents from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, abandoned land claim negotiations, and tried to defend its underfunding of First Nations schools and child welfare agencies.
via … www.thestar.com/opinion
The Canadian Labour Congress supports Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, who is on a hunger strike in Ottawa. She is determined not to eat until granted an audience with the Prime Minister to discuss conditions on her reserve and government actions that compromise First Nations communities, land and water. We urge the Prime Minister to meet with Chief Spence.
The deplorable housing situation at Attawapiskat made international headlines in 2011. Leaders there declared a state of emergency for the third time in three years in response to falling temperatures, and the resulting health and safety concerns due to inadequate housing. Many residents were living in tents, trailers and temporary shelters, and many residences and public buildings lacked running water and electricity. In one case, children, the elderly, and the ill were sleeping in rooms just a few feet away from a 2009 raw sewage spill that had not been adequately cleaned up.
The story is all too familiar for Attawapiskat and other First Nations communities. Chief Spence says that the federal government has embarked on an agenda that flies in the face of the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.
Chief Spence’s action has helped to galvanize a movement called Idle No More, which arose as a result of the federal government’s recent omnibus Bill C-45. The legislation amends the Navigable Waters Protection Act,
which will allow the government to approve projects on more than 160 lakes without consulting First Nations. Bill C-45 also makes changes to the Indian Act, including to land management on reserves that make it easier to lease out land for economic development without consulting band residents. The impact of these changes will be devastating for many First Nations communities. There is also continuing frustration over a lack of action in the cases of more than 600 aboriginal women who have been murdered or gone missing in the past 20 years.
The CLC urges its affiliates and Federations of Labour to extend support to Chief Spence and to those participating in the Idle No More movement.
via … www.canadianlabour.ca
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence says she won’t allow authorities to take her to the hospital if the hunger strike takes a turn for the worse.
Spence, who is into her ninth day of a hunger strike, said she’s aware the RCMP is keeping an eye on her situation, but she won’t allow anyone to take her away from the teepee on an island in the Ottawa River where she is staying until Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston agree to meet with First Nations chiefs to discuss the treaties.
She said the people who have volunteered to take care of her will stop any attempts to force her away, even if she’s on death’s doorstep.
“I got my helpers here to protect me. They are the ones who are going to look after me,” said Spence, 49, in her second interview with APTN National News since her hunger strike began. “I’ll be here, I am not going anywhere. My ancestors are here, my drummers, the grassroots people are here.”
The interior of Spence’s teepee has changed over the past few days. The fire pit has been replaced by a wood stove and blankets now hang against the canvas walls, but the floor is still covered with spruce branches.
The teepee sits on Victoria Island in the shadow of Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court.
Spence holds an eagle feather as she speaks and is flanked by two of her closest supporters, Danny Metatawabin, from Attawapiskat, and Angela Bercier, a student from Long Plain First Nation who is in Aboriginal studies at the University of Ottawa.