Reflecting on 40 days on Victoria Island
Edmond Etherington (left) with Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and his younger brother, Pat Jr. on the night Spence ended her fast. The brothers from Moose Cree arrived on Victoria Island four days into Spence’s fast and dedicated themselves to helping her.
Edmond Etherington travelled to Victoria Island with his family with the intention of only visiting Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence.
But after spending the day, Etherington and his father, step-mother and brother decided to stay until the end.
The 34-year-old Moose Cree member eschewed the politics behind the fast and instead focused on supporting the ceremonies, keeping the camp running, and protecting Spence.
“It hasn’t sunk it yet that it’s over because it’s not over,” he said the day after the fast officially ended. “I don’t think it will sink in until something comes out of it in a good way.”
Wawatay (WWT): Can you describe the atmosphere on Victoria Island?
Edmond Etherington (EE): We had our struggles where people came and said, ‘We have the answer for Chief Spence. We can help her.’ At times I felt uncomfortable. I felt disorganized because she is the answer for what she did. People came and said, ‘I have the answers for her. I have visions, I have dreams, I can heal her.’
Where I came to play, I said, ‘That’s okay. We honour you for coming here, to be part of this beginning of a new way of life. Where I walked across this country for the young people, at times, I had my challenges too, where I chose to walk away for my reasons. But to come, walk with those people, as I walk today, in a good way, to share what it is to be said at times what we need to hear from each other.’
WWT: What was the spirituality like on the island?
EE: The spirituality part was always there. It’s in us today. It’s that heartbeat that beats today, that connection we have with each other where people from all over the world, this country, came in many ways of their own beliefs. But that one belief was of this mother, or this chief, or this leader, or this kookoom, or this teacher, as she represents this life that mother who is closest to the Creator, where she was protected in a good way.
WWT: What were some of the challenges you faced?
EE: We had a lot of challenges and people came there and tried to challenge us, where we as young men who stood beside her and protected. But that balance with each other, where we stood beside each other. We stood side by side about life, about how we are as sons for our mothers, to show the young people out there about life, about what it is she that she showed, where she wanted to do something good for the people. And she did. Her job is done is now.
Now it’s up to whoever takes that role in today’s society, to keep going with that message she brought down from the Creator for us to listen to.
WWT: You were her helper for 40 days. How did you feel when you knew that her hunger strike, or her sacred fast as she calls it, was going to come to an end?
EE: Well that part has never sunk in yet. She’s still with me, in terms of what she spoke in my heart. Some days she asked me, are you okay, Edmond? And those days I felt sad. At times when people don’t want to listen to what she’s trying to say to people, where our so-called elected leaders turn their backs on her and walked away from her. They came down to the island to show their support, but I seen it in their eyes, they’re there to be acknowledged by people.
But they never were acknowledged by me, because I knew they were there for the wrong reasons. They came up as I stood by that door to say, I am chief. I go in first. I said no. You’re not going first. You wait just like everybody else who’s here. You have no role as being chief because you are not my leader. My leader is Chief Spence, my mother, my father. My leader is those young people, those children who speak the truth, who say listen to me, listen to what I have to say. That’s my leader.
WWT: What were you doing before you came to Ottawa, and now that it’s over, what will you be doing when you get back?
EE: As a young man, I wasn’t doing good. I was out there in the society of drugs and alcohol. But now, from today, I received a pipe from these fasters, and they told me to use that pipe for the people, as they suffered for the people.
And I will honour them and the Creator for the reason I received that pipe. And still walk in today’s society where they’re so caught up with what’s going on outside of this law today, the government law. But I’m not educated with the government law. I’m educated with the natural law, where I don’t feel confused. There will be balance. I will keep going until that day where my job is done here on Earth.
I cannot speak from that day because I don’t know when that’ll be. But I’ll live day by day with that pipe in a good way. And I will raise that pipe in a good way. Because as fasters, Raymond Robinson and Chief Spence, told me, ‘you’ve earned this, you’ve earned this for a good reason. And now it’s your turn to do right.’ And I will do right.
WWT: Is there anything else you would like to say?
EE: Everybody love each other, honour each other, work with each other as family. And don’t rely on elected chiefs, elected council. Do it for yourselves. Get that education, get that knowledge from both sides of laws: the government law and the natural law, and you will walk with balance.
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