The state of emergency was declared on Oct. 28, 2011, by Attawapiskat's new chief, Theresa Spence. I had known her through her work on council. She didn't strike me as a firebrand or overly political. She was worried that, as the arctic winter descended on the community, people in these makeshift quarters could die. Days turned into weeks, and the temperature kept dropping. Officials from the regional office of Aboriginal Affairs spoke with the community about advancing some money to repair some of the condemned houses, but there was no offer to help get the families out of the tents and shacks.
In the dead of winter, minus 40 degree winds whistled through gaps around doors and windows of the decrepit portables that made up the entirety of their school. Until this month, that was life in elementary school in Attawapiskat. After a 14-year wait, children in the remote northern Ontario First Nations community have a real school again.
Hi-Ho Mistahey! is not the joyless catalogue of wrongs I feared. For every grievance the film portrays, it offers equal evidence of inspiring First Nations youth working proactively to improve their situation. Still, while It would be nice if the fix for education in Attawapiskat and other reserves were as straightforward as a better building and more money, the solution is very unlikely to be that easy. The engaging movie would have more impact if it recognized more explicitly that securing more government funding for on-reserve schools is just one piece in a much larger, and more complex, puzzle.
I'd describe my own school experience as "hell." I'm 81 years old now, so you can imagine how bad it was back then. Canadian history, as taught in school, was really anti-First Nations people, depicting us as savages and really designed as a campaign of hate.
The Deloitte & Touche audit of Attawapiskat is a textbook outcome of the fatal weakness in Canada's current model of First Nations governance, which is coded to fail. There could be hundreds of Attawapiskats.
Does anyone know what the average First Nations chief's level of training and management experience is? Or the average training and experience of band councillors? How many building inspectors live within 50 miles of Attawapiskat? How about CAs, CGAs or project managers capable of supervising and maintaining records on multiple construction sites?
What makes this sideshow all the more embarrassing is that there's been a complete breakdown in the Chief's relationship with the one independent agency whose power actually does matter -- the press. The indifferent contempt in which she has so consistently held the press is beginning to return in kind. You can almost hear her 15 minutes ticking away. To put it bluntly, you can't just do this.
What we have here is a woman who bemoans the impoverished nature of her reserve while she is partly to blame for it; a woman who has the ability to make things better, but won't because not everyone has RSVP'd to her invitation. What was once a justified pursuit to better the pitiful lives of the disenfranchised in First Nations communities has become a circus in which there is no possibility of dialogue unless every single demand is met. Spence is not a symbol to be admired. She is but one of the myriad reasons why First Nation communities exist in the sad way that they do, and it's time for her to go.
Chief Spence's hunger strike is the perfect unexpected act; it is asymmetrical action in the face of controllable expectations. She is laying everything on the line to reclaim the sacredness of her community and she is succeeding. Use this as inspiration for your own acts.
In the wake of the Idle No More protests that have blocked railway lines and have hinted at more mischief, multiple grievances have been advanced in place of clear-headed analyses. But none of the slogans, clichés and guilt-tripping get to the bottom of why some aboriginals, especially on reserves, are in a sorry state. Fundamental problems with how reserves are run — and the unsustainable nature of some of those rural collectives — is what protesters should ponder.
The issues Chief Spence is raising -- terrible living conditions, deep neglect, poverty and powerlessness -- will not go away, and will not disappear in the face of attack. They are the shame of our nation and must be addressed. But the Conservatives have rejected replacing the Indian Act with a real transfer of power, and the implementation of the self government agreements which all Canadian governments agreed to in Charlottetown 20 years ago. They have offered nothing that even begins to address the issues. We shall all pay a heavy price for this lack of leadership.
Hunger-striking Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence is the reincarnation of Mahatma Ghandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. She is becoming the ...
The Harper Conservatives' lack of consultation with First Nations represents a dangerous narrow-mindedness. The same goes for the government's neglect of environmental protection. It is time to idle no more. It is time to speak out, for First Nations, and for Canadians as a whole.
What are the specific demands of the #IdleNoMore movement? Chief Spence has said that her strike is ultimately about "respect." What specifics are the Idle No More movement looking to change? Repeal of Bill C-45? Removal of the Indian Act? Platitudes about "respect" require detail unless you are Aretha Franklin. Conditions for Aboriginals in our country must improve and the status quo is unacceptable. But #IdleNoMore has a temporary momentum, and unless it answers three basic questions it has a very real expiry date.
I woke up just past midnight with a bolt. My six-month-old son was crying. He has a cold -- the second of his short life -- and his blocked nose frightens him. I was about to get up when he started snoring again. I, on the other hand, was wide awake. A single thought entered my head: Chief Theresa Spence is hungry. Her hunger is not just speaking to Stephen Harper. It is also speaking to all of us, telling us that the time for bitching and moaning is over. Now is the time to act, to stand strong and unbending for the people, places and principles that we love.
During the Arab Spring,Tunisians and Egyptians awoke from the fog of fear, stood up and spoke out on the streets of Cairo and took their movement to the polls. In contrast, voter turnout for First Nations has been dismal at best. Like many oppressed Canadians, Aboriginals have diluted their own strength via their collective electoral idleness. Here's hoping for an Aboriginal Autumn that lasts through the 2015 Spring election.
Canada is guilty of one of the most elemental colonial sins: trying to destroy aboriginal culture and assimilate aboriginal people. That's why Chief Theresa Spence's hunger strike matters. This time, our first peoples won't be placated with an apology in parliament, This time, the revolt is for real.