It has come to this? Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has started on a hunger strike

Attawapiskat Chief Spence starts on her journey - a hunger strike and is saluted by MP Charlie Angus
Attawapiskat Chief Spence starts on her journey – a hunger strike and is saluted by MP Charlie Angus

THUNDER BAY – EDITORIAL – Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has started on a hunger strike. The goal is to have a treaty meeting with Prime Minister Harper.

Chief Theresa Spence – It has come to this?

Today, in Ottawa at the Peace Flame on the walkway leading up to the House of Commons, Timmins James Bay MP Charlie Angus presented Chief Spence with some symbolic gifts as she starts this journey toward trying to gain what she believes in for her people.

Angus has been outspoken in his support of the community of Attawapiskat. His words, and his efforts have certainly not been appreciated by the Conservative government.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Greg Rickford, the MP for Kenora Rainy River and Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs stated, “Since 2010, the minister has visited 50 first nations communities and held hundreds of productive meetings with chiefs, councillors and members of aboriginal communities across Canada. In fact, every year over 5,000 consultations are held with first nations. The government upholds its duty to consult with first nations and, if necessary, it responds to their demands”.

There are about 275 First Nations Reserves in British Columbia alone, by the Parliamentary Secretary’s own admission the Minister has not even been to 20 percent of the reserves in his own province let alone across Canada.

The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs  has not visited Attawapiskat either during the emergency declared last year, or since. Simply put that message sent by those actions has led to where Canada sits today with First Nations leaders and grassroots support building across Canada for action.

As an aside, that action is continuing. In Alberta the Samson Cree are planning to block and shut down Highway 2A on December 12 2012. It is likely should the federal government continue on their plans with legislation that the Aboriginal community is seeing as being done to harm their communities and culture, there will be far more protests.

The Attawapiskat Chief’s efforts were talked about in Parliament. NDP MP Jean Crowder called on the Conservatives on the issue. “We have Chief Theresa Spence on the Hill commencing a hunger strike today. The Idle No More campaign was launched on social media by young aboriginal women and men who want more for their future. These women and men are tired of the Conservative empty promises, unilateral decision making and court challenges. As the national chief has said, the clock is ticking and patience is running out”.

Greg Rickford, the MP from Kenora responded, “That is how we came to the action plan for water and waste water treatment, consulting from coast to coast to coast. We heard from grassroots community members from coast to coast to coast with respect to increasing financial transparency and accountability, and we are delivering on that legislation. We are taking every opportunity we can to share our priorities and consult appropriately with first nations on all of these key files”.

What was not shared was that the funding to implement the water and waste water treatment that is needed to achieve the goal of clean and safe drinking water.

It is a far cry from putting words in place to having deeds and actions in place.

green seedless grapesPerhaps a simple demonstration would come in the Northern Food Plan. This plan is designed to equalize prices for food in Northern Communities and help make it easier on residents to afford healthier food choices. Would you pay almost $20.00 for a pound of grapes?

You would if you lived in Northern Ontario where that is the case, and the savings offered by the government’s program provides a subsidy of $0.66 under the new program.

[sws_pullquote_right] Would you pay almost $20.00 for a pound of grapes? [/sws_pullquote_right]

It appears a program was put into place that isn’t doing what it is designed to do.

Over the coming days, weeks and even months, it is likely that there will be lots of roads being blocked, railway lines being blocked and other peaceful protests put in place by First Nations people across Canada.

It is obvious certainly that the federal government has almost no grasp of the speed of communications, the skill at organizing and implementing plans that First Nations youth and elders now have.

What is truly sad is that in a country as rich in resources, as rich in intelligence and a Canada with a rich history of doing better that it has come to this.

As a youth I used to listen to reports of Irish members of the IRA who were on hunger strikes. I wondered how come a government could be so unconcerned as to allow it to come to this. Now I see it in the Canada that I. along with so many others once thought was so much better than the rest of the world.

Now, sadly and lets be blunt here, it is not just the Conservative government’s problem, the same issues have happened under the Liberals as well, we are seeing the anger, angst and the unrest.

It is time that we all stepped up and started to make sure that as Canadians we are all doing the best we can for all of us.

James Murray

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