News story of the year: Chief Theresa Spence holds hunger strike
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike and the Idle No More protest movement are Wawatay’s news story of the year.
Spence began her hunger strike on Dec. 11 and and plans to continue until Stephen Harper and a representative of the Queen meet with her and First Nations leaders to involve them in the legislative process that affects First Nations across Canada. Spence said she was “willing to die” in the process.
“Theresa is feeling tired but her spirit is strong,” said Danny Metatawabin, Spence’s official spokesperson, on the eighth day of her hunger strike. “She’s thoroughly focused on what she needs to do: her hunger strike. She’s going to stay on Victoria Island for however long it takes to call a meeting with the prime minister and governor general.”
Chiefs from across Nishnawbe Aski Nation and the country offered support to Spence during her hunger strike, which she conducted in a teepee on Victoria Island, just minutes away from Parliament Hill.
“We stand united with Chief Spence in her heroic efforts to protect Aboriginal and treaty rights,” said Deputy Grand Chief Les Louttit. “Our people are frustrated with the federal government’s continued attack on treaty and inherent rights and the lack of dialogue with our leaders by making unilateral decisions that affect our people, lands and resources. Sometimes drastic measures have to be done to be heard.”
Grand Chief Harvey Yesno said Chief Spence's decision to go on a hunger strike is a protest against recent legislative changes that will directly impact the rights of First Nations.
“First Nations across Canada are frustrated at how changes and plans are underway by the federal department of Indian Affairs and Canada without addressing the key components of the obligations of our treaties,” Yesno said.
Although Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development of Canada Minister John Duncan offered to meet with Spence, Metatawabin said Spence would only meet with Harper and Governor General David Johnston.
“When is the Prime Minister and the minister of Aboriginal Affairs going to wake up?” asked Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Stan Louttit. “Canada continues to ignore the treaties, as well as the provisions of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, both of which have been endorsed by Canada. Canada’s actions are unfair, paternalistic and extremely disrespectful of First Nations. This is why you will continue to see actions taken by First Nation leaders such as Chief Spence and others who are sick and tired of unilateral actions and decision making by government on matters that directly impact their people and communities.”
Naotkamegwanning (Whitefish Bay) Chief Joyce White and a group of jingle dress dancers performed a special dance for Spence on Dec. 15 at Victoria Island.
“It was very spiritual and uplifting and we’d like acknowledge the Elder who led the group and the jingle dress dancers,” Metatawabin said.
Ontario Native Women’s Association executive director Betty Kennedy said Spence personifies the strength of Aboriginal women and their commitment to their communities.
“Over 600 Aboriginal women and girls have already lost their lives due to the systemic injustice and racism that plagues our people,” Kennedy said. “How many more lives need to be lost before action is taken?”
Idle No More began as a grassroots movement and has since grown to an international movement, with rallies held across Canada, the United States and in London, England.
Many Idle No More participants expressed support for Spence on her hunger strike, and some chiefs and community members have since fasted or started hunger strikes of their own in support of Spence.
“There’s a lot of prayers coming from across Canada and across the world, and she’s praying for us as well,” Metatawabin said. “That’s what’s keeping her going.”
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