Freedom of expression has cost my husband, Raif Badawi, his own freedom. As we speak, he is locked inside a small cell in a remote prison in Saudi Arabia; a country where censorship prevails. A country, my country, which views women as second class citizens. A country, my husband's country, that he so loves -- all of its land, its women and men, his love of his country, which extends right up to the doors of Shura, which is set on ruining the aspirations of an entire people. A country where the young are choking in a whisper that should be a scream.
This week Prime Minister Stephen Harper granted Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence's wish and met with First Nations Chiefs. But the still-hunger-striking Spence was one of many chiefs who chose to boycott the three-hour talks, in part because the Governor General would not be in attendance. So what to make of a leader who's willing to forego solid food for weeks to further her goal of meeting with the nation's leadership -- but who doesn't consider a conversation with merely the PM good enough? Apparently she's not an incrementalist.
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.
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.
Centuries of racism and neglect have spawned a righteous anger amongst Canada's native people. The Idle No More protesters are simply asking that we respect the treaties signed with our First Nations. Damned if I can see how any Canadian can be against keeping our promises to the people who were here first.
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.
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.
Chief Theresa Spence hasn't eaten in over 11 days. The weather has taken a big turn for the worse and her tent home on Victoria Island is far from ideal. This was a serious business and she told me she wasn't backing down. I knew then I was watching the beginning of a revolution. Chief Spence has put her life on the line. This is not a game. This is not a stunt. Every day that Mr. Harper tries to wait out the crisis, the stakes rise higher. Mr. Harper has a very short window to show leadership. He needs to come the table and begin to address the issues that have driven so many First Nation communities into poverty and despair.
"I'm 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." We should all be ashamed that these words were uttered in Canada, and that a First Nation leader has put her life on the line to be heard. A hunger strike in Canada is a sign of imperfect democracy.
Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat started a hunger strike this week -- "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." The frustration of Aboriginal Peoples is understandable given the complete lack of progress on their issues and the refusal of the government to fulfill its legal obligation to consult with them on matters that may impact their inherent and/or treaty rights. The outrage of First Nations, Inuit and Métis is not only understandable, but justified.