At Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s camp on Ottawa’s Victoria Island, the Sacred Fire is at all times surrounded by helpers and people from many Nations who’ve come to pay their respects. Some stop and quietly make prayers; others hang around telling stories, laughing, or having serious discussions. I returned on December 27 and 29 to interview the people who’d come to join the Sacred Fire. Here, in their own voices, they explain why they’ve come to Victoria Island, and what they hope will happen as a result of Chief Spence’s hunger strike and the emergence of the Idle No More movement.
OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON FOR CHIEF SPENCE,
MOOSE CREE, ATTAWAPISKAT
This is her 17th day. I arrived the night of the day she started, so I’ve been here 16 days.
I think based on the support and the prayers we’ve received, we’re extremely happy and doing well. The Chief is not 100% healthy. She’s somewhat tired due to not eating solids, but she’s drinking water and fish broth, and that helps her.
The momentum is picking up. The support isn’t just coming from across Canada. It’s gone global. I’ve even heard word that embassies or even Members of Parliament are writing letters to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Prayers help, and ceremonies help. That’s all [people] can do if they can’t make it here in person. We’re here for one reason only, and that’s the reason we’re doing this: Chief Theresa Spence is providing hope for grassroots people. We all need to come together and remind our local leadership to work with the grassroots, and to tell the grassroots to work with the local leadership. That’s how we’re doing this. We’re tired of being treated like unworthy people. We want to be just like regular, ordinary citizens, just like Canadian citizens. That’s what we’re doing this for. We want to ensure our rights are protected. We’re doing this for all First Nations communities, whether you live in urban settings or isolated areas. We’re doing this for you, and you should be proud and happy that this movement is picking up.
MÉTIS NATION, WINNIPEG
I came all the way from Winnipeg, got here yesterday. There are good people here, and we’re here for a good reason, all here to support this woman. We’re going to make a change. The change has been happening – young people have been starting to speak up more. I think it’s important that people wake up and realize that there’s a group of people that live in this country who’ve been ignored for a long time. We need to respect what they’ve contributed to society.
MOOSE CREE, MOOSE FACTORY
They call me Flat Mosquito, the one who’s with Mosquito Clan. Proud to be Mosquito! From James Bay, where the mosquitoes roam free. I came down from Cochrane, where the polar bears are.
The atmosphere here is good. A lot of good people, with a lot of kind words from each other, and a lot of sharing.
DAVID R. MARACLE,
TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY
I come here [to Ottawa] off and on, and I’m here today just to check in with the status of what’s going on, to see the good people at the fires, helping to keep things in order here.
Things in Tyendinaga are going good, and I wanted to be able to report back to the Confederacy. Our Six Nations Confederacy is standing by, on call for whatever needs to be done to help further the cause of our people getting seen and heard properly. We’re here to bring good wishes from our Nation too.
It’s now a waiting game, and it’s making a lot of First Nations people angry, that they have to wait this long, and that someone has to do this to prove that we have to do these things, because [the government is] not willing to listen. Once we get ahead on certain things, they stand up and they block it, or they start changing governments so we have to start over again. But I think First Nations people are on to that now, and they’re worried.
We have a lot of things happening on our own territory. We have water issues, and I just heard the other day about the toxic waste they’ve been dumping in different territories. There are a lot of different things that have been swept under the carpet, and the elected-chief system is standing up. They realize that now they have no other choice. One way or another, they’re going to be losing funding and other things.
People are coming together. Harper doesn’t realize that what he’s doing today is bringing people together stronger, and stronger than ever people are standing up, saying enough is enough.
She’s a very strong woman in there to be doing what she’s doing. I believe that the men are seeing something with the woman putting her heart on her sleeve. The sincerity behind it is overwhelming and I think the world is paying attention.
MOOSE CREE, MOOSE FACTORY
I’m the oskâpêwis, the helper. Here I’m taking care of the Sacred Fire. I’ve been here since day one. I wanted to support her.
It’s all one family. We take care of each other, and that’s how it is. We’re all Anishinabe people. A lot of people come and visit and offer their time and prayers here at the Sacred Fire, and that’s what it’s all about. We stick together.
EEYOUCH FROM COCHRANE, ONTARIO
I know Theresa. I’ve known her for a while. I’ve just come to give my support and my prayers to her. It must be five days ago. We live in Cochrane, but my parents originate from Waskaganish. When we heard, we came. Well, he came [referring to her husband, who was sitting beside her], with his sons, who are helpers here.
She’s very strong, and very high spirited. Lots of prayers for her from all over. I can’t speak for her – it’s just what I see. But that’s where she’s getting a lot of her strength – all the prayers and support, the love that’s there.
ANISHINABE NATION, PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, MANITOBA
My daughter lives in Toronto, so I came to see her. I picked her up to come here.
When I hear of a woman that’s doing what she’s doing, I felt I needed to be here to support her. I brought a gift that I hope I can give to her, a sacred cloth that we Anishinabe people use at times like this. I feel that coming here I’ve done something about what all this is about. I never thought I’d come here. I wanted to, and all of a sudden I’m here.
I’m not an expert, but it’s about time. It’s really nice to see our supporters all over the planet. It seems like the media can’t report everything. For myself, I watch the Winnipeg news, where I live, and we’re always dead last on the announcements, and when we are on, we’re there 20 seconds. They talk more about the monkeys and the cats and the dogs and the pigs – back where I came from, there was some abuse of pigs and cats, and that’s the number-one news there. Then us Indians are in there for a few seconds.
I know the media – who puts the hand on their mouths so they can’t report? I was at a demonstration at Highway 1 and Highway 16, on December 15; our people gathered over there, and sure enough the information wasn’t accurate. So I thought, once again, there it goes. I saw the CBC packing their stuff and I asked them, “So you guys going to make sure this is going to be on?” There were several hundred people there, and they reported 50.
I once travelled to Australia and I wondered why the Malaysian people knew more about our country than we did. Later I pieced that together. A month after we got back there was an article in the Winnipeg Free Press that said the Canadian government was saying something about the Malaysian government treating a reporter not good, and the Malaysian government responded, “How dare you say that with the way you treat your First Nations, Aboriginal people?” That’s when I started thinking, “Hey, yeah! That’s something!”
We keep hearing this thing about the grassroots people. I’ll say to the women especially, since I’m a woman myself, the women need to gather wherever they are and pray for this woman that’s doing this, and also for the good that’s going to come out of this. They can do something, wherever they are. I was doing things over there [in Manitoba], and then I had this opportunity to come here. That’s what I’d like to say to the people in isolated communities. Get together and get that energy started, from wherever you are.
PAT ETHERINGTON JR.,
MOOSE CREE, COCHRANE ONTARIO (ORIGINALLY FROM MOOSE FACTORY)
At first I heard about Theresa’s hunger strike – I’ve known Theresa for a while. She knows my family, my dad, and all them, so I wanted to come support her, any way I could. When I came down here, I was only planning on staying for the day or something, but then I realized that they needed help, maintaining the camp and everything, so that’s when I chose to stay. I’ll stay ’til the end, too – whatever end that may be, I’m going to be there ’til then.
We keep the fires going, make sure she’s protected, that nobody forces their way in. We look after the camp. If firewood needs hauling, or any kind of jobs need to be done, we do it. I’m actually pretty honoured to wear this [red] band I’m wearing on my arm. That’s to identify who the helpers are.
I got here on day five of her hunger strike. That’s two weeks now. We just set up three new tents. There are 11 of us.
I don’t know how long this is going to go, but I’m willing to stay until the end. I have a job back home, but I’ve been in touch with my boss and he’s said, “Do what you need to do.” It’s actually pretty good, and I’m glad, because I told him he could let me go. I’m going to stay here. I got a job, that’s money, but I’m pretty sure I could get another one. Right now there’s a mine in the area – there’s Detour Gold Mine, and there’s OPG [Ontario Power Generation]. They’re rebuilding a dam and that’s a five-year project. They’ve got an agreement with Moose Cree. I’m Moose Cree, that’s how I got in there. But either way I’d be losing that job sooner or later.
The only thing I can say about Harper is that he’s playing with fire. And you know what happens when you play with fire – you get burned. Because, pretty soon, if this situation goes south, it’s going to be bad. People might get restless. We were talking there – you know these blockades that are going up? They’re only going up for an hour, just to show solidarity. But if they go up in anger, then in everybody’s opinion, it could go bad. If they went up in anger and didn’t come down, we probably could bring this damned country to a standstill. It could go that way, but god forbid it did. I don’t want it – it’s going to hurt our cause, really, but that’s why they need Harper to come down here. He could end it. He could have ended it on the first day.
I think [Idle No More] is actually pretty cool. It’s long overdue. The way I feel it is Idle No More is out there, doing their part, but I try not to keep up with that – try, but I do anyway! It’s pretty interesting what they’re doing. But I try to stay more focused on what we’re doing here, with [Chief Spence]. I took part in a couple of the flash mobs around here – went and took part in the flash mob in front of Harper’s house. We did a round dance and shut down the road for about half an hour.
It’s an exciting, interesting time right now. I see this as the front lines right here, this little compound we’re in – it’s not even part of Canada anymore.