Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat began a hunger strike to protest the Conservative government’s handling of First Nation issues on December 12.
“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,” said Chief Spence at a Parliament Hill press conference.
Chief Spence is conducting her hunger strike on Victoria Island until Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Queen Elizabeth agree to convene with First Nations leaders to discuss treaty rights.
Last year, Attawapiskat became a recognizable name to many Canadians after intense attention on the national news. Before the onset of winter, Chief Spence issued a state of emergency due to a housing crisis and appealed to the federal government for assistance.
The Conservative government blamed Attawapiskat’s leadership for mismanaging funds and instituted a third-party manager to help solve the housing crisis.
Chief Spence called these past actions of the Canadian government “illegal” since no such mismanagement of funds was found in prior audits.
“Canada has since embarked on an aggressive, assimilatory legislative agenda without having first consulted, accommodated and obtained the consent of First Nations.”
This call for action and recognition has been taken up by other First Nations activists. Frustration with Bill C-45, which alters the Indian Act, the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act, and the government’s reluctance to consult First Nations when crafting legislation has made Chief Spence a symbol for a new wave of First Nation activism.
Idle No More is a grassroots movement that has used social media to coordinate several protests in Canadian cities since the beginning of Chief Spence’s strike.
Idle No More seeks to change government policy towards First Nations. The Idle No More manifesto contains an explicit reference to the challenges that have faced Attawapiskat. “Some of the poorest First Nations communities (such as Attawapiskat) have mines or other developments on their land, but do not get a share of the profit.”
On Idle No More website features several posts encouraging people to spread the information about Chief Spence’s hunger strike across Canada.
In Edmonton, members of the Samson Cree Nation blockaded a highway to show solidarity with Chief Spence. While in Toronto, a 24-hour fast was held to support Chief Spence.
The Prime Minister’s Office has yet to issue a statement about these ongoing developments.
“I’m not afraid to die,” said Chief Spence. “If that’s the journey for me I will go and I’m looking forward to it.”