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Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence Says She’s “Willing To Die” For A Meeting With Prime Minister Harp
December 12, 2012
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Last year, the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario was thrust into the national spotlight.

It came to light that many people in the community were living in atrocious and inadequate housing as winter rolled in.

Now, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is on a hunger strike to try and force a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Crown, and First Nations leaders. She stopped eating early yesterday morning.

She plans to drink only water (once in the morning and once in the evening) and fast in two teepees, one on Parliament Hill during the day and another on Victoria Island.

Spence says she wants a meeting to create "a better dialogue."

"[We need] a partnership... as we speak, our people are suffering because of the decisions that are made by the government," she told reporters on Parliament Hill.

"I'm willing to die for my people and the First Nations people," she said. "The pain is too much and it has to stop."

The federal government sent modular homes to the Attawapiskat community last year to help relieve the housing crisis.

They also put the First Nation under third-party management - a move the Federal Court called "unreasonable" back in August.

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The Prime Minister's office has referred media requests for comment on Chief Spence's actions to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan.

Duncan has said he would be happy to meet with Spence, and that he was not aware of an official meeting request.

"I've met with her before. I'd be happy to meet with her again. I think we, as a government, we've made good progress and there is a little bit of politics at play here," he said.

Greg Rickford, the Parliamentary Secretary of Aboriginal Affairs, says the department wrote to Spence last week offering to visit Attawapiskat to ensure the community has everything it needs as winter approaches.

"We've made repeated requests and offers including support to work with the community to help develop a long-term housing strategy and we're waiting for that report," Rickford told APTN. "This is a governance issue and we hope that Chief Spence and her council put that housing strategy out to us."

The hunger strike coincides with a program of activism called "Idle No More."

According to its website, Idle No More "calls on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water."

Idle No More is partly a response to Bill C-45, the omnibus budget bill which includes changes to the Indian Act, the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

But the manifesto on the Idle No More website discusses the latest bill in the context of the broader relationship between Canada and First Nations.

It refers to "a history of colonization which has resulted in outstanding land claims, lack of resources and unequal funding for services such as education and housing."

Idle No More protests took place in cities across Canada on Monday, with thousands of people coming out to speak out against the bill.

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Photo: Blaire Russell

"Bill C-45 is not just about a budget, it is a direct attack on First Nations lands and on bodies of water we all share from across this country," said Sylvia McAdam, one of the four founding activists.

theresa-spence-idle-no-more-logo.jpgSupporters of Idle No More say the changes to the budget bill were written without adequate consultation with aboriginal groups and violate treaty and land rights.

"The way all these things are coming from the government, it's crippling our people. It's not our way," Spence said.

Idle No More is also using social media to spread the word. The #IdleNoMore hashtag is being used in hundreds of messages on Twitter.

And there are other actions planned related to the Idle No More protests. Today, members of the Samson Cree Nation blocked a section of highway outside Edmonton from 11:15 am and 12:15 pm local time.

The blockade was peaceful, but intended to bring attention to Idle No More and this specific date.

"We are taking the opportunity, coinciding with the 12th hour of the 12th day of December 2012, to bring awareness to First Nations opposition to legislation proposed by the Harper government," said a statement on the band's website.

For a personal take on the Idle No More protests and what they mean to many First Nations people, check out this thought-provoking opinion piece titled 'The natives are getting restless. Wondering why?'

It's from the Apihtawikosisan blog written by Chelsea Vowel, a 34-year-old Métis woman who lives in Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. The piece is set up as an imaginary conversation between Vowel and a non-native acquaintance, and in it, Vowel stresses that media attention has been too focused on Bill C-45.

She believes that the broader issue is the relationship between Canada and the First Nations, and that treaty agreements have not been respected.

Related:

UPDATE: The Attawapiskat First Nation Housing Crisis Continues

Update: What's Next For Attawapiskat?

Attawapiskat: Following The Money

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