THUNDER BAY – Idle No More and Aboriginal leaders are only hearing silence from Prime Minister Harper. Chief Theresa Spence is now in Day 25 of her hunger strike, and spokespersons are sharing that the Chief is getting weaker. Across Canada, Idle No More is ramping up, and AFN National Chief Atleo is seeking the Prime Minister to meet with Aboriginal leaders.
The Prime Minister’s communications team tweeted “The government remains willing to work with First Nation leadership to deliver better outcomes for FN communities” in response to the request from National Chief Atleo for a January 24th meeting.
Chief Spence and her supporters are seeking faster action. Chief Spence is weakening according to her supporters.
What the Conservatives appear to be missing is that the grassroots Idle No More is using social media and the Internet as a massive co-ordinated tool for communications, research and information sharing at a speed far faster than they seem capable of understanding.
As Aboriginal groups and leaders are digging into the issue, and gaining support they are uncovering facts that likely would never have come to light.
Conservative pundits have been accusing First Nations groups of wasting money, when the reality is the funds spent are often under the full control of the federal government. For example, Anishinabek Nation Deputy Grand Council Chief Glen Hare is wondering why the federal bureaucracy responsible for improving the lives of First Nations people in Canada are spending exorbitant amounts on overseas travel.
Published reports include thousands of dollars in overseas trips civil servants in the Aboriginal Affairs Ministry. Travel includes destinations including Russia, Belgium and Great Britain in a list of $125 million worth of extravagant expenses by federal civil servants.
“They’re supposed to be representing our interests – we’re not aware of any First Nations in England,” said Hare. “We have plenty of funding problems in our own back yard – we don’t need INAC dollars spent in Europe.”
The Deputy Grand Council Chief called the expenses “jaw-dropping” at a time when First Nations education funding has been capped at two per cent for the past 13 years.
“Just keeping up with inflation and our growing population would require annual funding increases of 6.5 per cent,” said Hare. “This is discrimination against our young people,” he said, noting that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – which Canada recently endorsed – says Indigenous peoples have the right to all levels and forms of education without discrimination.
He called on the federal government to demonstrate more responsibility and transparency in spending taxpayers’ dollars.
Idle No More continues to grow. Last night in Saskatoon, 1800 people participated in a Round Dance in a local shopping mall. The dancers included a wide cross section of Canadians. The goal of Idle No More organizers to move the issue into the mainstream of thinking is coming together.
What is also happening through Idle No More are Aboriginal people are communicating with each other like never before and finding out that things that they thought were far more isolated are, in fact not. In Thunder Bay relations between First Nations leaders and the Thunder Bay Police have a human rights complaint underway over what Aboriginal leaders and people feel is an insulting press release recalled after the police say it was mistakenly issued. Locally the Ontario Provincial Police are now investigating a claim that a Native man was driven by police to the outskirts of the city and dropped off.
Those claims are under investigation, and legitimately the Thunder Bay Police Service executive can not comment on the claims or the investigation.
Questions from reporters asking local Idle No More spokesperson Joyce Hunter if she felt responsible for a reported attack on a local Aboriginal Woman, are opening the door to more people becoming willing to share their stories.
The silence from the Prime Minister might be good strategy for the Conservatives. However likely the yield of that crop will be a field of information coming out that likely the Conservatives and many other government leaders would prefer not being brought out in public.