Home / Views & Opinion / Day 20 of hunger strike: For the love of God, Stephen Harper, meet with Chief Theresa Spence and address indigenous rights
Day 20 of hunger strike: For the love of God, Stephen Harper, meet with Chief Theresa Spence and address indigenous rights

Day 20 of hunger strike: For the love of God, Stephen Harper, meet with Chief Theresa Spence and address indigenous rights

I had not heard of the movement Idle No More until 20 days ago.  20 days ago, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence went on a hunger strike to protest Canadian omnibus bill C-45, which changes land use and resource policies and undermines environmental laws, and dramatically undermines the ability of Indigenous communities in Canada to protect their land–all without consulting with First Nations peoples, in violation of treaty rights.  Already the Globe and Mail, apologist for the New Conservative Party of Canada is denying that any abuses are taking place, undermining the reasons why Chief Spence is on a hunger strike, and essentially calling indigenous peoples incapable of understanding the wisdom of the Great White Father Harper and his Conservative government in Canada, instead saying that the bill makes it easier for indigenous peoples to lease their land:

One of the most inflammatory, but inaccurate, claims coming from the Idle No More movement is that Bill C-45, the second budget implementation act, has deliberately made it easier to sell off Indian reserves. A little background information is necessary to understand what has actually happened.

Many first nations have achieved economic success by leasing portions of their reserves for shopping centres, industrial parks, residential developments, casinos and anything else that might make money. Such projects create jobs and generate property tax revenues that first nations need to provide better services for their members.

Not so, says Indian Country Today:

The bill amends the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Canada Labour Code, according to the Chiefs of Ontario. First Nations reacted immediately and strongly to the passage, citing the lack of consultation with First Nations during the creation of a bill that profoundly affects aboriginals' daily lives.

“Bill C-45 will not be enforced or recognized by their First Nations," said a statement released by the Chiefs of Ontario in conjunction with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Anishinabek Nation, Grand Council Treaty No. 3, Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, and Independent first Nations.

“At no time in the nine months that Bill C-45 was being considered did the Government of Canada discuss any matters related to it with First Nations—this bill breaches Canada’s own laws on the fiduciary legal duty to consult and accommodate First Nations," said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy in the statement. "The Canadian government just gave birth to a monster.”

The blog  âpihtawikosisân recently posted that misunderstandings about First Nations peoples feed the myths that are spread about them:

I have been trying my best on this blog to refute the myths and stereotypes, but I don’t have all the free time in the world that I’d like, and so my ‘myth-busting list‘ remains unfinished.

Nonetheless, I am asking for the help of Canadians to combat these ugly lies. I make this plea, because these lies allow people like Stephen Harper to ignore a hunger strike. These lies allow people to throw up their hands in disgust and claim that native people are freeloading whiners who need to shut up and go away. These lies allow a nation to ignore its own history, to erase its own volition, to believe that someone else will fix this problem.

Politicians won’t be the ones to fix what’s wrong with Canada and its relationship with indigenous peoples. This is a job for regular people, dealing with one another as human beings, and right now indigenous people in this country have not not are not being treated humanely.

On December 7, Jean Crowder, MP for the NDP Nanaimo-Cowichan British Columbia noted at an open Parliament debate that First Nations peoples were not consulted about Bill C-45:  "Mr. Speaker, in January the Prime Minister promised to work with first nations and to consult with them before introducing any policy changes. He broke that promise with unilateral changes to the Indian Act in Bill C-45. On December 10, grassroots organizers of Idle No More will be gathering outside the constituency office of the Prime Minister, demanding more accountability from the government."

The response from Conservative Greg Rickford Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development was a complete denial of Crowder's statement:  "Mr. Speaker, since 2010, the minister has visited more than 50 first nation communities and has had hundreds of productive meetings with chiefs, councils and aboriginal community members across Canada. In fact, we conduct over 5,000 consultations with first nations every year. Our government respects its duty to consult and, where appropriate, to accommodate first nations. We will continue to work with first nations to create the conditions for stronger first nation communities."

Apparently, the conservatives did not feel it was "appropriate" to consult with First Nations peoples about omnibus bill C-45.

And while the politicians debate, Chief Theresa starves.

Canadian history of treatment of First Nations' peoples, like the US, has been appalling, with forced assimilation policies, residential schools similar to the boarding school efforts of the United States, and tensions between First Nations peoples and the Canadian government, like the US, reflect the tenuous relationship and seeming inability of the government to cope with history that both governments have with their colonized peoples.   And like the US, First Nations people have continued to be marginalized, facing appalling abuses by the Canadian government, some of which are shown below from an op-ed piece in the Digital Journal:

In 2005, housing conditions on an Ontario reserve, Kasechewan, shocked the world when the media broke the story about

"dirty water laced with E. coli, rampant sickness and overcrowded, poorly built houses."

The community was in the news again in 2006 when an inquiry was to be held into the deaths of two men who burned to death while in jail earlier that year. It was reported that one officer suffered serious burns attempting to open the cells after a fire broke out in the facility. According to the CBC,

"… New Democrat MP Charlie Angus described the jail as "more like something you see in Sarajevo than the province of Ontario."

In January 2009, a Kasechewan family reported that an ill and dying elder relative had been left in a freezing air ambulance for about an hour.

Aside from the spring flooding problems that resulted in the contaminated drinking water in 2005, and aside from the issue of substandard housing, Kasechewan has also been been struggling with substance abuse and a high suicide rate.
Assimilation and removal efforts by the Canadian government have continued into the 20th and 21st centuries.  The Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission notes:

The third justice regime differed drastically in official character from its predecessor. Indeed, all the rules changed for Manitoba’s Aboriginal inhabitants. After Canada assumed responsibility for the West, its administrators actually attempted to take control of the lives of Aboriginal people. Their approach relied on three key steps: first, the signing of the treaties which transferred vast tracts of land to the government; second, the passage of the Indian Act which granted absolute power over Indian people to a federal department and its agents (both the treaties and the Indian Act were in place by the end of the 1870s); and, third, the direction of the Metis, separated from Indians by these administrative and legal decisions, onto a different path in 1870. Within two decades Aboriginal people had been pushed aside by incoming settlers. They remained in a backwater, neglected by Ottawa and offered little support by the province.

Early federal statutes were consolidated and revamped when the first Indian Act was enacted in 1876. The Act advanced the policy of seeking to assimilate Aboriginal people, severing their spiritual connection with the land, encouraging a shift in their economy and undermining their traditional government. Indians were encouraged or compelled to "enfranchise" (a term used to reflect that people were acquiring the vote, or "franchise," through losing their Indian status) if they obtained a university or professional education, left the reserve for prolonged periods, sought to send their children to public rather than residential schools, or if Indian women married men who were not registered Indians. When the Indian Act became the legal device to impose these changes, the Indian agent was the local messenger for the Department of Indian Affairs to implement its policies. TheIndian Act even went so far as to define a "person" as "an individual other than an Indian."

The Canadian prairies entered a global economy in the last half of the 19th century. Within one generation, the price and production of farm products became crucial matters for prairie dwellers. Newcomers set the rules in local politics. Aboriginal people were governed by legislation originating in Ottawa or Manitoba and by exceptionally powerful local bureaucrats. The two communities, Aboriginal and white, reserve and town, had few points of political intersection.

 The Commission also notes that Canada's treatment of war veterans was such that the rights First Nations veterans had been given while fighting for Canada abruptly disappeared once they returned to their reserves–not allowed to vote, enter licensed establishments or have a voice in the political process.  It seems not much has changed since 1950.So the question becomes–is Prime Minister Stephen Harper going to continue to allow Chief Spence to starve?   Prime Minister Harper has met with Justin Bieber, yet ignores Chief Spence, an irony that has not been lost on First Nations peoples.The world is watching.  #Idle No More is supported in many countries through the world, including people in Korea, the UK, Native Americans and other non-native peoples in the US, the Netherlands, and New Zealand to name a few, along with thousands who are protesting across Canada.  Spence remains on an island in the Ottawa River. She was visited by more than 20 Members of Parliament on Sunday.

Mr. Harper, are you REALLY going to let her starve to death?

About Dakota O'Leary

Dakota O'Leary is a freethinker, and often sassy, scholar of theology and literature. She got her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theology from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, and her Master of Arts degree in Theology and Literature from Antioch University-Midwest. She is a contributing writer focusing on eschatology, biblical prophecy, and general religious news. Dakota is a co-host of the God Discussion radio show, offering insight to the news stories of the week. We like to call her "our in-house Biblical prophecy expert" as her articles on eschatology have received over 200,000 views on God Discussion.
  • Peter

    I feel the natives made two strategic errors with their Idle No More protest. First, I think doing this during the holiday season was a mistake because most have other things on
    their minds. Hopefully this will reverse itself in the new year and hopefully, also, before this brave woman collapses. The second problem is they haven’t got their message across so they need better PR because it does concern all Canadians. Their protest only receives a 60 second news clip on the nightly news. The CBC offered in depth coverage that nobody watches the CBC because they’d rather watch American “reality” shows. When I brought the subject up over the last few weeks, nobody knew what the protest was all about. Also, there have been so many native protests over the years most Canadians are now indifferent, as in: “what are they protesting about now?” Sad, but true. This draconian piece of legislation affects all Canadians not just the natives as did the previous ominous bill. The natives have a legitimate issue, a very legitimate beef but they haven’t got the message across.

    Stephen Harper is an autocrat, an ideological neo-con who has no love of democracy or its institutions and treats Canada’s Parliament and the opposition parties with contempt. He formed a minority government in 2006 and 2008 but won a majority in 2011 due to the weakness of the Liberal Party. So, under our system he still has about three years left in his mandate. I shudder to think what he will accomplish in those years because he reportedly said: “When I get through, you won’t recognize Canada.” Whether true or not this is what is happening because he is busy dismantling much of what Canada stood for. Currently, the Harper government is sinking in the polls and most thinking
    Canadians can’t wait for the next election. But he still has three years, remember.
    Harper’s style of governing is to do nothing until forced to do so. Let’s hope it doesn’t take the death of Chief Theresa Spence to make Harper move.

    • Can't the people initiate a vote of no confidence so there can be another election, or is that out of the question, Peter?

      • Peter

        No Diane. In the parliamentary system Harper holds a majority of the seats in Parliament so even the combined votes of the opposition wouldn't be enough to defeat him in a non-confidence motion. He won his majority in the last election but previously he won two terms with a minority and was defeated on confidence motions triggering elections. So we have to wait 3 years for the next election. It's interesting that in the last election he only won 33% of the vote the rest divided among the 4 opposition parties which is flaw in the parliamentary system. If Justin Trudeau wins the Liberal leadership polls suggest he would win a solid majority. Let's hope.

      • Peter

        Diane: Have you kept of with this issue? I hinted at the problem but if you haven't you would not know how complicated the situation is. And, it centres around Spence. I did not give a full explanation because that Bob guy. If interested I'll give you an impartial explanation explanation. Take care you Indian/Irish.

  • bob

    Well she only has 40 or 50 years to live on her tea and fish soup diet….oh sorry I mean hunger strike. People in third world countries live on far less. she will be fine people don't worry…

    • Peter

      Do you know anything about Canada or the issues she is addressing? If you do, you're one of Harper's emasculated pawns.

    • You are an asinine human being. She is living on water and chicken broth. You are an asinine human being.

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