Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
In 1968 César Chávez went on a 25 day fast to protest unfair treatment of farm workers in California. US Senator Robert F. Kennedy journeyed to Delano, California to be with Chávez when he ended his fast. Once there, Senator Kennedy called Chávez "one of the heroic figures of our time."
In an unfolding story in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, the First Nations have their own heroic figure in Chief Theresa Spence.
Today marks the 11th day of Chief Spence's hunger strike. She is protesting the unfair sweeping legislation put forth by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that, in essence, terminates treaty rights of First Nations peoples across Canada, thereby negatively impacting their lives, the environment and waterways.
Chief Spence is only drinking water twice a day in the morning and evening, as a peaceful act of defiance to the injustice of the Harper government. She spends most of her day in prayer. She has been living inside a teepee on Victoria Island on the Ottawa River, near Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
“I'm willing to die for my people and the First Nations people,”
Chief Spence said as she began her hunger strike.
“The pain is too much and it has to stop.”
Today across Canada and in various places in the United States Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Shiprock, New Mexico there will be protests in support of Chief Spence and the cause to turn back the Harper's Conservative government's First Nations termination plans. This includes 70 buses headed from the US to Ottawa, Ontario today.
In this era of social media and instantaneous news coverage, it is fair to say the whole world is watching Canada and how it responds to the ire of the First Nations peoples.
Because Canada is a Commonwealth of Great Britain, treaties that were in place are between First Nations and Great Britain. So, rightfully so, Chief Spence is requesting a meeting with the Governor General David Johnston, Queen Elizabeth's representative in Canada, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
So far, there has been no such meeting. So, Chief Spence's hunger strike continues.
As her hunger strike continues on into Christmas week, it is a fact her health will deteriorate. As Governor General Johnston and Prime Minister Harper sit down to their family Christmas dinners, one wonders if they will even think about Chief Spence. One wonders if they will remember they are on land of the First Nations peoples.
It is difficult to understand how the Canadian government that provided the First Nations peoples with a formal apology in June 2008 by this same Prime Minister Stephen Harper and honored the First Nations during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver is now turning its back on the First Nations peoples.
The Harper government surly must be aware the Termination Era Indian Federal Policy instituted by the United States was a complete failure. It did not work in the United States and it will not work in Canada.
Today Canada needs a compassionate political figure such as Robert Kennedy was to César Chávez.
Today Canada's First Nations need a caring hero such as César Chávez. Fortunately, they have it in Chief Theresa Spence.
We hope Governor General Johnston and Prime Minister Harper respond with a gesture of care for Chief Spence and the First Nations peoples.
posted December 21, 2012 10:40 am est