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It’s Been One Week Since Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence Started Her Hunger Strike For First Natio
December 18, 2012
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One week ago, Theresa Spence went to Parliament Hill and declared her intention to go on a hunger strike until Prime Minister Harper and the Crown agree to a meeting with First Nations leaders.

So far, the Prime Minister has not responded to Spence's demand. Media requests for comment have been referred to John Duncan, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Spence has been fasting since December 11, drinking only water (once in the morning and once in the evening), and living in a teepee on Victoria Island, near Parliament Hill.

Jan O'Driscoll, a spokesperson for the Minister, says the department has made efforts to consult with aboriginal leaders, and that Duncan has offered to meet with Spence and have his parliamentary secretary tour the reserve to make sure it has what it needs for winter.

A Manitoba man, 51-year-old Raymond Robinson, is also on a hunger strike in solidarity with Spence.


Robinson is an elder of the Cross Lake First Nation, and he says he's drawing attention to the plight of Canada's aboriginal people with his hunger strike, which started last Wednesday.

And a 72-year-old Cree man named Emil Bell is also on a hunger strike inspired by Chief Spence. He drove two hours to his daughter's home at the Cole Bay First Nation in Saskatchewan to ask for her permission to die.

"It's not a decision I'm taking lightly," Bell said. "It hurt to have to tell the people I love that I'm ready to die but enough is enough."

Also showing support is Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, who headed to Ottawa on Sunday to meet with Chief Spence. He called on First Nations people across Canada to get behind Spence's cause.

"Fly, drive or otherwise and demand that the conditions of breaking the fast be met by this prime minister. If this prime minister fails to meet the conditions and this powerful Attawapiskat chief passes, the long silent war drums of our people must ring loudly in the ears of everyone," Nepinak said.

Over the past few days, people have written open letters to the government demanding action on Chief Spence's requests.

Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, wrote a letter calling for a meeting between the First Nations, Prime Minister Harper and Governor General David Johnston.

In the letter, Atleo mentions Chief Spence's hunger strike, and says the government has not upheld its responsibilities to First Nations.

He says the government "has not upheld the Honour of the Crown," and attacks "its inadequate and inequitable funding relationships with our Nations and its ongoing actions in bringing forward legislative and policy changes that will directly impact on the Inherent and Treaty Rights of First Nations."

"We need to see the treaties implemented. We need to see the deep poverty alleviated, and for people to have the dignity of clean drinking water, of proper homes," Atleo said yesterday in Winnipeg.


Leaders of two of Canada's largest private sector unions have also called on the federal government to meet with Chief Spence immediately.

The Canadian Auto Workers Union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union have both asked the government to use a collective bargaining approach with the First Nations people over treaty rights.

"For our entire existence as a country, the federal government has abused the rights of the First Nations people," said CAW National President Ken Lewenza.

"Chief Theresa Spence's fight for her people is similar to that labour movement and so many other groups - the fight for dignity, respect, and equality," said CEP National President Dave Coles. "It is urgently necessary that the government reach an equitable agreement with the First Nations people."

And Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, released a letter yesterday calling on the Prime Minister to meet with Spence: "There is no excuse for you not to meet with Chief Spence. There is no excuse for your government not to act quickly to address the issues facing the Attawapiskat First Nation."

Chief Spence's hunger strike coincides with Idle No More, a political movement that is leading to protests and rallies, as well as lots of talk on social media.


The Idle No More movement began at a recent meeting in Saskatchewan between Sylvia McAdam, Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean and Jessica Gordon, four women who are angry about Bill C-45, the omnibus budget bill.

Two provisions in the bill particularly upset them: the reduced number of federally protected waterways and a fast-tracked process to surrender reserve lands.

McAdam and her friends decided to speak out about the Bill, and the broader issues facing First Nations in this country, and be "Idle No More."

Wab Kinew, former CBC journalist and current Director of Indigenous Inclusion at the University of Winnipeg, has a great piece about the movement right here.

There have been several Idle No More rallies (including a flash mob-style Round Dance at the Cornwall Centre in Regina on Monday evening), with another planned for this Friday, December 21 in Sudbury.

You can follow the #IdleNoMore hashtag on Twitter for updates on upcoming events.


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