Levi Rickert in Native Condition. Discussion »
Last Friday was a big day among First Nations in Canada. Thousands of First Nations peoples arrived at Parliament Hill in the bitter cold in Ottawa to give support of the "Idle No More" peace movement that has swept Canada for the past two months.
Attawapiskat Chief Spence on Victoria Island
Inside a large government building on Parliament Hill, some 20 Assembly of First Nations chiefs met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The meeting was significant because the prime minister had completely ignored the Idle No More peace movement and the hunger strikes of several First Nations people, most notably Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence all during the holidays and beyond.
On that day, Chief Spence was in Day 32 of her hunger strike that began on December 11. She did not attend the meeting with the prime minister and had decided she would not attend the "ceremonial" meeting with the governor general, the Crown's representative to Canada.
By late afternoon, word trickled out that Chief Spence had changed her mind and decided to attend the "ceremonial" meeting with Governor General David Johnston. As the afternoon turned to evening, darkness fell upon Ottawa. I began to get messages inquiring about Chief Spence. People wanted to know if she would end her hunger strike.
Strangely, the inquiries did not center on what happened in the meeting between the chiefs and the prime minister. People wanted to know about Chief Spence.
One would suspect that First Nations aboriginals up in Canada and their American Indian relatives in the United States already knew how these meetings go and realized in the darkness there would be no major announcements. Native people really don't expect much positive governmental action when it comes to improving the lives of our people. There would be no breakthroughs.
How can you reverse over 140 years of oppression of First Nations peoples with a single afternoon meeting?
NonNative leaders tend to enjoy these meetings because they get caught up in the pomp of the ceremonial smudges that our elders so freely and graciously administer at the beginning because non-Natives enjoy the ritual of smudges even if they understand the implications of cleansing. Furthermore, in these meetings, these same nonNative leaders listen and take what they hear under advisement.
One wondered if perhaps the cleansing of the smudge would render compassion from the hearts of two men who had ignored the hunger strike of Chief Spence and others who had shown sheer determination to bring attention to the unjust legislation of Bill C45 that was passed without First Nations input.
There was no such evidence of compassion from Prime Minister Harper or Governor General Johnston. They would not grant Chief Spence the joint meeting with her and the other First Nations leaders as she had requested.
Accused of changing the line in the sand, she reacted subsequently in a news release:
“Since the beginning of my journey in this hunger strike, I've remained consistent in my request for a meeting between all parties to Treaty. This would include Chiefs, the Governor General and the Prime Minister,”
stated Chief Spence.
Today is Day 36 of Chief Spence's hunger strike. One wonders: Do Prime Minister Harper or Governor General Johnston care?
Today begins her sixth week of living in a teepee on Victoria Island, within eyes view of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. She lives in frigid weather, surrounded by fire keepers and care takes who ensure she lives as comfortably as she can. She sustains herself with water, herbal teas and fish broth. But, most important, she sustains herself with prayer.
To First Nations peoples in Canada, American Indians in the United States and indigenous peoples around world, Chief Spence is quickly becoming legendary as a woman warrior, who is willing to stand up against injustice for her people. This is leadership in its most exemplary fashion.
Chief Spence needs all of prayers. She needs them now especially now that the two most powerful men displayed that the smudging they received last Friday did not work. They have shown their lack of compassion for Chief Spence. Their words fall to the ground with sheer emptiness.
posted January 15, 2013 10:20 am est