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.
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.
If the million or so aboriginal Canadians together realized their joint power, they could change Canada into a totally different society. And there are indications that a strategy is there. Idle No More need not be a confrontational force -- it can be the catalyst to bring about real justice and fairness for all the nations of Canada.
Now that Prime Minister Harper is at least dragging his feet toward a January 11 meeting with aboriginal chiefs, we continue to see government and aboriginal leaders contradict each other about the effectiveness and sincerity of government efforts. The problem is a very complex one. Some of the complications result from imperfections in the performance of the aboriginal chiefs and some from imperfections in the performance of Canadian government chiefs. However, none will be resolved until both sides decide to talk openly and to trust one another. Did I mention that I am an idealist?
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.
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.