Chief Theresa Spence has become one of the most polarizing figures in Canada over the past several weeks. Love her or hate her, she has become tied to the Idle No More movement, and her hunger strike continues to unnecessarily dominate the news.
Although there is absolutely no question that major work needs to be done in terms of the federal government protecting the rights of First Nations people in Canada and that Spence’s hunger strike may have started out with good intentions, her recent actions have shown that she is unwilling to negotiate and in the current situation, she appears to be solely pursuing her own interest.
Spence’s liquid-only diet started Dec. 11 as a way to bring attention to the deplorable conditions of Attawapiskat and other reservations across Canada, as well as the disregard for treaty and land rights by the federal government. Her goal was to seek an audience with the Prime Minister as a way to have a serious, open dialogue and produce much needed change.
Although the goals are similar, the Idle No More movement started around the same time with four other female activists who oppose bill C-45 and wanted to start a grassroots campaign to fight it. Unfortunately, Spence has also become associated with the movement, despite having nothing to do with its orgins.
Hunger strikes are a powerful way to get your message heard — and Spence was heard. She wanted a meeting with Harper, which was granted on Jan. 11, with Minister of Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan and a collection of First Nation Leaders also in attendance. Despite getting what she wanted, Spence rejected the meeting because Governor General David Johnston would not be in attendance — even though Johnston’s role is a completely ceremonial representation of Canada’s former ties to the British Monarchy.
The fact that Spence was able to get what she initially wanted, yet changed her mind and made more demands at the last minute, proves that she has no place as a voice and activist for First Nations’ rights in Canada. Although it may be symbolically important that Johnston attend the meeting, his attendance means nothing in reality.
Harper made a necessary concession when he agreed to this meeting, and Spence had the chance to end her hunger strike and accomplish her goal, but instead she now looks like nothing more than someone out for attention and publicity. The increased focus on Spence and her hunger strike is taking away important focus on the real causes and concerns behind the Idle No More movement.
Spence’s continued liquid-only diet twists both Harper and Johnston’s arms in an unreasonable way. They already agreed to meetings with Spence and other First Nations leaders. They should feel no obligation to give in to Spence’s vague, changing demands.
Spence’s selfish hunger strike and demands for media attention should not detract from the true meaning behind Idle No More and similar protests.
It should always be remembered that the federal government must do more to protect the rights of First Nations peoples and their land and treaty rights in this country. Spence on the other hand, should be ignored.
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