What won't be resolved any time soon is the crucial question of who speaks for whom. Politics at the best of times is complicated, and in keeping with this principle, native communities are in many instances divided. On the surface there's grassroots consensus around honouring treaties, "respecting the relationship," and empowering communities
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has released an important scientific report on the body burden of environmental chemicals in the adult First Nation population in Canada. The report, First Nations Biomonitoring Initiative, fills a significant gap in existing research. Certain chemical levels were found to be significantly higher in the First Nations populations.
With a final media show, Chief Spence has now ended her 44 day "reduced food" diet. The question should now turn to what did she accomplish? Are Canadians more aware today and do they have a better understanding of the abysmal living conditions in First Nations communities? Probably not, such conditions were already well known and have been for decades.
Today's "National Day of Action" gives Chief Theresa Spence another opportunity to declare a victory over holding the government to account and another opportunity to call off her "hunger" strike. By not doing so she risks further polarizing and dividing the movement and First Nations leadership. The government is left with few options. It must still negotiate with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and National Chief Shawn Atleo, as it has to be seen to be engaged and working to make change possible, sooner rather than later.
By Harper agreeing to meet Spence, the first step has been taken. Whatever the outcome, the movement will not fade away. By seizing the moment, the AFN and the government have been handed an opportunity where they can make common cause to affect positive change for First Nations communities. It is in everyone's best interest that they succeed.
As we enter the new year, it is time for Chief Spence and Prime Minister Harper to pause and reflect about their on-going standoff. Both sides need to feel that they have won and both sides need to find a way to declare victory. Only then can the two sides proceed to the next step which should be fresh dialogue and agreed to solutions for key First Nations issues.
The recent decision by the Assembly of First Nations to reject Ottawa's musings about reforming on-reserve education was an example of a react-first, ask-questions later approach. It was unhelpful, most of all to First Nations kids. Whenever the possibility of mixing more First Nations kids with non-native kids is brought up, some immediately have concerns over possible forced assimilation given past attempts to such an end. But integration (attending class with non-natives) is not assimilation. One can be Jewish in a public school without losing one's heritage and faith.