ONTD Political

‘Idle No More’: Hunger-striking Attawapiskat chief vows to ‘die’ for her people as aboriginal protes

3:01 pm - 12/17/2012
'Idle No More': Hunger-striking Attawapiskat chief vows to 'die' for her people as aboriginal protests spread

OTTAWA — Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan is offering to meet this week with a northern Ontario chief who embarked on a hunger strike Tuesday out of frustration with the federal government.

Chief Theresa Spence of the remote Attawapiskat First Nation launched her protest with a vow to “die” unless the Conservative government starts showing more respect to First Nations concerns and aboriginal treaties.

Spence is demanding a meeting between the Crown, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and aboriginal leaders to forge a new relationship. An offer was extended last week to have Duncan’s parliamentary secretary visit Attawapiskat to ensure the reserve has what it needs to get through the winter, said Jan O’Driscoll. a spokeswoman for the minister.
“We continue to look forward to her response,” O’Driscoll said. Duncan would also be prepared to meet with Spence this week in Ottawa to talk about the state of her community, she added.

But the issues go well beyond Attawapiskat, Spence said in a statement. The Harper government has embarked on an “aggressive, assimilatory legislative agenda” that flies in the face of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, she complained. And she accused Duncan’s office of misleading the public about the social realities facing Canada’s First Nations.

Spence, whose northern Ontario community was at the centre of an international media storm last year because of a winter housing crisis, is calling on Ottawa to withdraw recent legislation that she says was imposed on aboriginals, and to reverse its decision to cut funding to First Nation organizations and communities.

Thousands of protesters in cities across the country took to the streets Monday in what has been dubbed the Idle No More movement against what they say are unilateral actions by the Harper government.

They are angry over a number of bills before Parliament, including one that would force First Nations to disclose their financial statements and the salaries of chiefs and councillors.

For Spence, the pain of watching her people suffer through a lack of housing and inadequate water supplies proved a tipping point.

“The treaty’s been violated [for] so many years and it’s time for the prime minister to honour it and respect our leaders,” said Spence, who is staying in a cabin on an island in the Ottawa River while she goes without food.

“I am willing to die for my people because the pain is too much and it’s time for the government to realize what it’s doing to us,” she said.

“I am not afraid to die. If that’s the journey for me to go, then I will go.”


Other references
-'Unreasonable' for federal government to send third-party manager to Attawapiskat: Federal Court'
-'Kashechewan state of emergency: reserve neighboring Attawapiskat receives government assistance after emergency'
-Amnesty International on the rights of Indigenous Peoples: has many pages dealing with Canada's abysmal human rights record in this regard 
-'UN envoy criticizes government over Attawapiskat'
OP: When is Canada going to start affording its Indigenous Peoples the simple justice and basic dignity that any human being has a right to expect?

(Post edited to fix links and a bit of formatting.)
kagehikario 18th-Dec-2012 02:51 am (UTC)
:( There is so much broken with how the federal and first nations governments interact. I feel like the federal gov is acting like a dead-beat parent who grudgingly sends support checks and ignores their charges the rest of the time, when they should be treating the tribes as fellow Canadian citizens with varied levels of independence and sovereign nations in a shared state. I wish Chief Spence well, but would be shocked if the federal government gives an inch.
devetu 18th-Dec-2012 04:06 am (UTC)
trying to convince one of my bosses to find a little money in our budget (i work for a non-profit) so a coworker and i can go to the protests. wish me luck.
romp 18th-Dec-2012 06:34 am (UTC)
good luck! I hope you post about it if you do go
biting_moopie 18th-Dec-2012 11:08 am (UTC)
Good luck!
soleiltropiques 18th-Dec-2012 07:13 pm (UTC)
Good luck!! That sounds like a great idea.
(no subject) - Anonymous
soleiltropiques 18th-Dec-2012 07:25 pm (UTC)
I think that this argument (I am not saying that it is your argument, from what I see you are merely summarizing the government's position)
soleiltropiques 19th-Dec-2012 06:19 pm (UTC)
My apologies, lj died before I could post the rest of my reply.

I think that this argument (I am not saying that it is your argument, from what I see you are merely summarizing the government's position) completely ignores the following facts.

(i) Point #1: The historical aspects of the situation, namely that Natives have been the oppressed party for quite some time (and continue to be so), which implies that the Canadian government has a moral (and I would suspect legal, although I'm no expert) obligation to make reparations.

Examples of this past and present discrimination and systemic poverty abound. As I posted to my personal blog a while ago, "Regarding the second point, Canada has a long and distinguished record of disregarding the basic human rights of its indigenous peoples. For a country that prides itself on its support of human rights, it is interesting to note that it was one of only four votes against the United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples (passed in 2007).(5) Amnesty International has expressed concern over the treatment of First Nations in Canada.(8, 9, 10) Also, various health problems among First Nations people are several times the Canadian national averages: examples include obesity (11), type 2 diabetes (12, 13), suicide (14), and being First Nations person was even associated with a significantly higher risk of having a severe H1N1 infection during the worldwide pandemic. (15)"

(ii) Point #2: This argument also ignores the legal and historical facts surrounding the Indian Act, originally enacted in 1876. While this legislation has been amended, the fact remains that this legislation was created to enable the ASSIMILATION of Native peoples. This law still has many problems: it prohibits private ownership of land on reserves. It has also been criticized in recent years for its paternalistic approach to Native peoples, yet remains to this day the legal basis for much of the interactions between the federal government and Native peoples. (As a side note, it is worth noting that the term 'First Nations' is actually applied to those Native peoples who adhere to this system -not all do. The Indian Act also does not apply to Métis and Inuit peoples.) (16,17)

Given this framework, it can be see that there are CURRENT and REAL barriers to economic development for Native peoples. Hence their current reliance on governmental monies for their survival. (See for example ref. 2)

soleiltropiques 19th-Dec-2012 06:19 pm (UTC)
(I had to split this into three parts. Here is part 2.)

(iii) Point #3: There are many REAL and CURRENT examples of the fact that Native peoples are frequently not consulted in the case of economic ventures which evidently concern them, in particular by virtue of the fact that these ventures take place on their lands.

Examples include that of the Lubicon Cree, where as Amnesty International states, "Over the last three decades, the province of Alberta has licensed more than 2600 oil and gas wells on the traditional territory of the Lubicon Cree. That’s more than five wells for every Lubicon person. Territory that the Lubicon have relied on to hunt, fish and trap is now crisscrossed by more than 2400 km of oil and gas pipelines. In 2011, one of these pipelines spilled an estimated 28,000 barrels of crude oil into wetlands near the Lubicon community of Little Buffalo. It was one of the largest oil spills in Alberta history. The Lubicon have never entered into a treaty with the Government of Canada. Nor have they ever given up any rights to their lands and territories. Once-promising efforts to negotiate an agreement to create a Lubicon reserve, and support the rebuilding of the Lubicon economy and society, have been stalled for almost a decade. Meanwhile, the federal and provincial governments have used their own failure to provide legal recognition of Lubicon lands as an excuse for excluding the Lubicon from decision-making over development in their lands and from a fair share in the revenue that has been generated." (18)

A further report by Amnesty International in 2009 stated that, "Canadian officials "failed to ensure respect for indigenous rights" when issuing mining, logging and resource extraction licences".(19)

Another example is that of Attawapiskat: DeBeers operates a mine on the land of the people of Attawapiskat. I quote again (from the Huffington Post): "The De Beers Victor Mine is the richest diamond mine in the Western world. Just recently, the province upped the royalty tax at the mine from nine per cent to 11 per cent to ensure an even higher return for the provincial coffers. Not a dime of provincial royalty money comes back to help the community with infrastructure or development". (2)

(iv) Final point: All of this points to the fact that this is not a simple case of wanting to 'have their cake and eat it too'. On the contrary, all the evidence points to systematic discrimination and wanton marginalization of Native peoples by the federal (and provincial) governments.

soleiltropiques 19th-Dec-2012 06:20 pm (UTC)
(Here is part 3/3)

1. Lives at risk on Ontario's Attawapiskat reserve, chief says. Governments blamed for ignoring 'crisis'. (At the Ottawa Citizen) http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Lives+risk+Ontario+Attawapiskat+reserve+chief+says/5735930/story.html
2. What if they declared an emergency and no one came? (At huffingtonpost.ca) http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/charlie-angus/attawapiskat-emergency_b_1104370.html#s487209
3. Attawapiskat: Jacques Marion, government-appointed consultant, kicked off reserve. (At huffingtonpost.ca)
4. Attawapiskat ou le règne du mépris. (In French - Le Soleil) http://www.cyberpresse.ca/le-soleil/opinions/points-de-vue/201112/06/01-4475162-attawapiskat-ou-le-regne-du-mepris.php
5. United Nations adopts declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. (UN News Centre) http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=23794&Cr=indigenous&Cr1
6. Harper vows 'action' on Attawapiskat. (At CBC news) http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2011/11/29/attawapiskat-tuesday.html
7. Government officials on the ground at struggling Attawapiskat reserve. (At the Globe and Mail) http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/government-officials-on-the-ground-at-struggling-attawapiskat-reserve/article2252850/
8. Human Rights for all: No Exceptions. http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR20/001/2007/en/e2069cff-df1a-11dc-89b2-1d33c8239e27/amr200012007eng.pdf
9. Canada falls short on Aboriginal rights: report. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2010/05/27/amnesty-international-canada.html
10. Canada - 20 years' denial of the recommendations made by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the continuing impact on the Lubicon Cree. http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR20/003/2010/en/63391216-930c-46e4-ad22-a3d8bcdda282/amr200032010en.pdf
11. Hanley AJG et al. Overweight among children and adolescents in a Native Canadian community: prevalence and associated factors. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2000; 71:693-700.
12. Kue Young T et al. Type 2 diabetes mellitus in Canada's First Nations: status of an epidemic in progress. Canadian Medical Association Journal 2000; 163:561-6.
13. Genest J et al. Recommendations for the management of dyslipidemia and the prevention of cardiovascular disease: summary of the 2003 update. Canadian Medical Association Journal 2003; 169:921-4.
14. Hunter E, Harvey D. Indigenous suicide in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. Emergency Medicine 2002; 14:14-23.
15. Zarychanski R et al. Correlates of severe disease in patients with 2009 pandemic influenza (H1N1) virus infection. Canadian Medical Association Journal 2010; 182:257-264.
16. Indian Act. (At the Canadian Encyclopedia) http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/indian-act
17. Background: The Indian Act. (At the CBC) http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/05/30/f-mapping-future-indian-act.html
18. The Lubicon Cree: A case study in ongoing human rights violations. http://www.amnesty.ca/our-work/issues/indigenous-peoples/the-lubicon-cree-ongoing-human-rights-violations
19. Canada falls short on aboriginal rights: report. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2010/05/27/amnesty-international-canada.html
shamoogity 20th-Dec-2012 08:13 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting this. I got in a semi-argument with someone on FB about this, but I didn't feel like I had the knowledge to counter his claims that everything the bands are protesting about are problems that only they can solve and that the government can't do anything about anyway. It's so hard to find unbiased info.
soleiltropiques 20th-Dec-2012 09:21 pm (UTC)
The truth is that the government provides money to various Native groups, but this funding is not as generous as non Native people in Canada like to think.

In 2008-9, "In terms of fiscal investments, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Health Canada and numerous other government departments and agencies are now spending more than $10 billion each year to fund programs directed to Aboriginal people living on and off reserve." (1) This is the figure quoted for spending on ALL Native populations (including Native peoples living off reserve, Inuit, and so on).
"$5.2 billion is spent on programs and services for First Nations on reserve", which is what applies more specifically to First Nations reserves.

If you compare that to the Federal government's total budget of $270.5 billion in 2010-11 (2), one can see that it isn't quite THAT much (less than 1% of the federal budget, which is not completely accurate since I have mixed budgetary years but does give an idea). It especially isn't that much when one considers the extremely high cost of living in the North in particular (cost of living should also be higher in more remote areas where reserves are located in general, even if in the south, or so it seems to me -although I admit I have not researched this specific aspect), since we're talking about fewer roads and so on to get there), which makes it such that budgets for the North and South are simply not comparable. (3, 4)

Anyways, thank you for your kind response and your interest.

(1) Frequently Asked Questions - Departmental Expenditures and Accountability. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100016458/1100100016459
(2) Annual Financial Report of the Government of Canada
Fiscal Year 2011–2012. Department of Finance Canada. http://www.fin.gc.ca/afr-rfa/2012/report-rapport-eng.asp#toc336524255
(3) High Cost Of Northern Living: Arctic Premiers Urge Feds To Invest In Infrastructure To Bring Down Costs. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/27/northern-canada-high-cost-food-infastructure_n_1631181.html
(4) Who, What, Why: Why does a cabbage cost $28 in Canada? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-18413043

Edited at 2012-12-20 09:37 pm (UTC)
romp 18th-Dec-2012 06:53 am (UTC)
I keep thinking about posting about Idle No More and thinking I have. :)

press release from the movement if anyone's looking on one

good summary of what's going on: Idle No More: There's good reason the Natives are restless
also, near the end, it links to an article questioning why some of the most marginalized and vulnerable people in North America to stand alone again environmental disaster and faux democracy. This is an issue for ALL Canadians.
betray802 18th-Dec-2012 08:12 am (UTC)
And there goes my happy little schoolgirl fantasy that the aboriginal peoples had a better situation in Canada than down here.
iolarah 18th-Dec-2012 12:53 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, no. They've been treated like shit for a long time, and it's awful the lengths they've had to go to just to have that recognized. The residential schools are a perfect example of that.

OP, thank you for posting this. First Nations peoples deserve more media attention than they're getting. I can't find a better article on it right now (on my way out the door) but a report was released this week in the wake of the Robert Picton case examining how Native women in particular at higher risk of such violence, and it makes 60+ recommendations to improve their conditions. It's actually a really interesting report, from what I heard on the CBC--far reaching; looks at socioeconomic factors and institutionalized racism, if I understood correctly.

soleiltropiques 19th-Dec-2012 06:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you! And I agree completely -this should be in the media a LOT more than it has been.

That is very interesting -the number of missing Aboriginal women in this country is appalling.
toraguru 21st-Dec-2012 02:41 am (UTC)
They're treated like shit socially and by the government, especially in the case of reserves. The conditions of reserves in Manitoba are rated the same as a third world country, yet white people in the area somehow think they live like kings off of government money and welfare.
(no subject) - Anonymous
soleiltropiques 19th-Dec-2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
IAC. What you said! ;)
toraguru 21st-Dec-2012 02:35 am (UTC)
The complete contempt, lack of respect, and blatant racism Canadians show for Aboriginals is so mind boggling to me. Not one person in my area would ever call a black person the N-word (to their face, at least), but have no problem telling the "Indians" that they are "dirty, lazy, stupid thieves living off welfare and a disgrace to even be in their privileged white presence".
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