Chief Theresa Spence, new leaders, raised awareness of unacceptable conditions.
by JF (Jim) Foulds
Polls show a mere 18 percent of Canadians believe Chief Theresa Spence has advanced both her own cause and that of Canada’s Aboriginal citizens. I vote with the 18 percent.
She and the Idle No More movement are distinct but complementary expressions of a new Aboriginal activism. Idle No More is urban, young, educated, and inspired by women. The movement challenges both the traditional First Nations leadership and Ottawa’s politicians and bureaucrats. In effect, it says "No matter the cause, it is simply wrong that our people are living in deplorable conditions. We’re not going to be victims or beggars any longer. We’re sick of talk. We want action, now."
Both Idle No More and Chief Theresa Spence’s fast are Canadian versions of Gandhi’s technique of non-violent passive resistance – confrontational, but peaceful. The objective is to change unjust laws or government/corporate behaviour.
Stephen Harper raised considerable hope back in 2008 with his historic apology in the House of Commons and the court-ordered establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine the tragic effects of the residential school system. But five years later, in his frantic race to tear Canada’s resources from the ground and sell them as quickly as possible, that hope has been shattered. With omnibus Bill 45 Harper ran roughshod over the rights and welfare of all Canadians – especially the First Nations communities whose traditional lands contain most of these resources.
We have a federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs which inexplicably funds schools on reserves at a rate of 20 to 30 percent less per capita than schools with provincial funding. We have a federal government that makes commitments about schools, housing and land claims but takes years to implement them. One small concrete example: Ontario Cabinet Minister Bud Wildman successfully negotiated a transfer of Crown land to the Garden River Reserve near Sault Ste Marie in the 1990s. After it had been ratified by the federal Minister of Indian Affairs (as he was then known) federal lawyers took almost 12 years to complete the legal paperwork!
Both Idle No More and Chief Theresa Spence’s fast are Canadian versions of Gandhi’s technique of non-violent passive resistance — confrontational, but peaceful. The objective is to change unjust laws or government/corporate behaviour.
Idle No More was galvanized into action by the Harper government’s passage of its second omnibus bill, Bill C 45. We should all be concerned. The Harper government is trying to fundamentally change Canada through backdoor politics – passing enabling legislation without adequate consultation and debate. Let’s be thankful someone is standing up to Harper’s willingness to ravage the environment.
Detractors say Idle No More and Theresa Spence have accomplished little, but they have catapulted Aboriginal issues to the top of Canada’s political agenda. The chronic third world conditions of many reserves can’t be hidden back in the bush any more.
We may want Canada’s resources developed, but a growing number of Canadians want Canada’s environment protected and increasingly they want all Canadians, including Aboriginals — not just the big oil and mining companies — to get their fair share of the revenues from those resources.
Detractors say Idle No More and Theresa Spence have accomplished little, but in fact, they have catapulted Aboriginal issues to the top of Canada’s political agenda. The chronic third world conditions of many reserves can’t be hidden back in the bush any more. At its height, Idle No More had engaged non-aboriginal Canadians in an online dialogue that was unprecedented. The key will be to keep Aboriginal issues front and centre.
This wave of activism isn’t just about treaties and old injustices. It is about Ottawa’s failure to solve current injustices.
Those in Idle No More and those who will succeed Theresa Spence should never underestimate the power and the nastiness of their opponents who will use every possible trick to discredit them and their cause, including public examination of their personal lives. The hatchet job done on Chief Spence shows her opponents' willingness to exploit any major or minor flaw. (Details of Spence’s personal life were leaked to the press, and the audit on Attawapiskat deliberately released three days before Harper was to meet with the national chiefs.)
This wave of activism isn’t just about treaties and old injustices. It is about Ottawa’s failure to solve current injustices. If Shawn Atleo and the National Chiefs can harness the energy unleashed by Idle No More and Theresa Spence they could transform the nature of both Aboriginal and Canadian politics forever. Idle No More should find the understanding to strengthen the hand of AFN Chief Shawn Atleo and the national Chiefs in their dealings with the Harper government.
The declaration drafted by the Opposition and the Chiefs not only released Theresa Spence from her fast, it could be a genuine blueprint for the future. This could be a historic moment in Canadian history. Let's hope the First Nations’ political leaders and Canada’s political leaders have the vision to seize it.© Copyright 2013 J F Foulds, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca