She has inspired so many, with humble courage, with quiet determination, with dignity and with steely resolve.
Some might call her hunger strike an act of desperation, a desperate act to save her community, her people. But it has become so much more than that.
Chief Theresa Spence has inspired her fellow First Nations citizens and so many more to “idle no more.” She has inspired them to dance and drum, to stand up, to speak out and to be one. To be peaceful, to use non-violence, because, in her words, the children are watching.
And by mobilizing young people, Chief Theresa Spence has done something great. She has given her people hope. Hope is such a powerful motivator. It is the foundation, the catalyst for change. And in the face of such desperation, such audacity, such humility, such dignity, once wonders how a prime minister, even one as taciturn as Stephen Harper, can continue to ignore her pleas.
Chief Spence has known adversity in her life, as a survivor of the residential school system. She writes for the http://www.idlenomore1.
blogspot.ca website that Christmas is an especially difficult time for her, having lost her mother at the age of nine on Christmas Day in 1951. The administrators of the residential school system barred her from attending her mother’s funeral.
And now, half a century later, the chief of a small northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat — which was thrust into the national spotlight earlier this year because of its substandard and shoddy housing conditions — has galvanized First Nations peoples with a single act of defiance, of desperation.
She started her hunger strike on Dec. 11. Chief Theresa Spence fasts on Victoria Island in the shadow of Parliament and by doing so has shown that sometimes when you feel the most powerless, it can also be the time when your courage reaches new heights.
She has said clearly and without hesitation that she is willing to die for her people. Such fearlessness.
Tired of feeling powerless, she took this grave act to bring attention to the hopelessness felt by so many in her community and in First Nations communities across the country.
Perhaps the latest undemocratic Harper government omnibus bill was the last straw, or perhaps it was something much closer to home: the plight of a single mother, living with her children in deplorable developing-world conditions in her own community. Perhaps it was years of frustration, injustice, contempt.
The problems facing First Nations people and their communities are profoundly complex. They will not be solved overnight or in one meeting between First Nations leaders and the prime minister.
The government’s latest omnibus bill (Bill C-45) is viewed by First Nations as a violation of long-standing treaty rights as well as in violation of various articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the right to participate in decision-making in matters that affect their rights through representatives chosen by them.
But in typical Harper government fashion, no one was consulted on Bill 45, the second nasty omnibus budget bill rammed through Parliament this year.
Is a hunger strike the answer? I honestly do not know, but then I have not known Chief Spence’s anguish. After all, she says her act is not about “anger, it is about pain.”
But I do so worry about this brave woman who starves herself while waiting for a meeting with the prime minister. I worry because Stephen Harper is a very stubborn man.
And Chief Spence is asking him, for once, to govern with his heart. I fear, and so want to be proven wrong, that this is not possible for this prime minister.
As I write this, Chief Theresa Spence had spent 15 days, including Christmas Day, on a hunger strike. By the time you read this, more days will have passed.
It is impossible not to compare the differences between this woman and the man she is trying to meet. She inspires hope. He trades in fear. She unites, while he divides.
And yet, this prime minister may have finally met his match. A match made out of desperation, hope, courage and a whole lot of heart.
I add my voice to the thousands calling on the prime minister to meet with Chief Spence.
Chief Theresa Spence’s act of hope reminds me of something written by Indian author and political activist Arundhati Roy: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Idle no more.
Lana Payne is president of the
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Her column returns Jan. 12.