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Behind the Headlines: Why Chief Theresa Spence Is Hunger Striking

To read the original story go to http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/craig-and-marc-kielburger/theresa-spence-hunger-strike_b_2311944.html?utm_hp_ref=canada

In a unique take on daily news hits, Free The Children co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger go behind the headlines to explore how the stories you read are connected to the causes you care about. You’ll never read the news in the same way again.

The headline that caught our attention: Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence begins hunger strike: “I am willing to die for my people.”

As we write, Chief Theresa Spence begins her sixth day without food. In the middle of a chilly December she’s making her stand in a tepee on Ottawa’s Victoria Island to secure a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In the scale of protest, a hunger strike is about a Defcon Two. Anyone willing to put her own health — and life — at risk to make a point isn’t fooling around.

In October 2011, Attawapiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency. With temperatures plummeting, families lived in tents and uninsulated shacks without electricity, heat, clean water or sanitation.

More than a year later, 22 modular houses have been built, but according to Attawapiskat elder Danny Metatawabin there has been little other progress. He told us many families still live in overcrowded houses or unheated shacks, and the water from the taps is still undrinkable.

However, the story behind the headline is that Chief Spence’s hunger strike is not simply about the appalling conditions her people continue to face. Spence is one of many aboriginal leaders looking for a way to express her frustration with the Government of Canada passing laws that affect their lives and land, as well as violating treaty rights without involving them in any of the decision making.

Last January, 170 aboriginal chiefs and leaders sat down in Ottawa with Governor General David Johnston, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and 12 cabinet ministers to reset the relationship between First Nations and the federal government.

Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), tells us this Crown-First Nations Gathering was an historic event that gave Canadian aboriginal community leaders hope they might be entering a new era of cooperation and respect with the government.

Their hopes were bolstered after the conference when Prime Minster Harper said that “fundamental change requires that we redouble our collaboration with First Nations to develop the elements upon which our renewed relationship will be based.”

However in the months that have followed, Atleo says the government-aboriginal collaboration has not redoubled, it has retreated.

The AFN national chief points to a long list of legislation introduced by the government on issues like the financial management of aboriginal bands. While aboriginal groups support many of the principles behind these laws, such as accountability and transparency, Atleo says the laws were drafted without any prior consultation or consent from the aboriginal communities whose are directly impacted.

“These patterns of ‘government knows best’ harken back to the Indian Act 100 years ago, and to residential schools,” Atleo argues.

The latest legislative irritant is Bill C-45 — the government’s omnibus bill that lumps together a menagerie of legislation into one big package. C-45 includes changes to the Indian Act and the laws governing aboriginal fisheries. The Bill was introduced in October and just passed Third Reading this past week.

“Our government has been hard at work modernizing legislation in order to allow First Nations and aboriginal organizations to operate at the speed of business,” Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said in a recent speech.

According to Atleo, the government’s actions actually violate constitutionally-entrenched aboriginal treaty rights, not to mention the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which repeatedly states that governments must obtain the “free, prior and informed consent” of aboriginal peoples before passing laws that affect their lives.”And consent doesn’t just mean a drive-by consultation,” says Atleo.

Aboriginal groups are also unhappy with the changes C-45 makes to the Navigable Waters Act. The Act provided protection against harmful development for all of Canada’s more than two million lakes and rivers by requiring environmental assessments. C-45 limits that protection to just 159 specific lakes and rivers. First Nations like Attawapiskat, which sits downriver of the Ring of Fire mining projects, worry the changes will bring even more development and environmental devastation to the waterways that are integral to their communities.

Atleo says more than 80,000 aboriginal people in Canada still need homes, 200 communities need schools, and more than 120 communities can’t drink the water from their taps. The only way to solve these problems, he argues, is for aboriginal leaders and government to collaborate as partners.

Speaking with Atleo and Metatawabin it’s impossible to miss the frustration as they look back on a year that started with so much promise. “It’s getting demoralizing,” says Metatawabin.

The AFN has launched a campaign called “Idle No More” that calls the federal government to”honour and fulfill Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water.” Demonstrations by aboriginals and supporters are springing up across Canada.

Spence, meanwhile, is avoiding interviews and rallies, conserving her energy while she waits for the Prime Minister to answer her call to come to the table.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of international charity andeducational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event,We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than100,000 attendees. For more information, visit http://www.weday.com

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Attawapiskat chief launches hunger strike to force treaty meeting with PM, Queen

Attawapiskat chief launches hunger strike to force treaty meeting with PM, Queen

National News | 10. Dec, 2012 by APTN National News | 0 Comments
Attawapiskat chief launches hunger strike to force treaty meeting with PM, Queen

APTN National News
OTTAWA–Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence plans to begin a hunger strike in Ottawa this week and continue until Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Queen agree to a treaty meeting with First Nations in Canada or she meets her “ancestors.”

Spence was supposed to begin her hunger strike in Ottawa Monday morning but weather delayed her flight into the city from Toronto. Spence arrived in the city at about 11 a.m. and she planned to hold a press conference later in the day. She was also scheduled to have a conference call with former AFN candidate Pam Palmater and members from the Idle No More campaign, which also kicked off Monday.

Spence plans to begin her hunger strike on Tuesday morning.

Spence said in an open-letter she wouldn’t end her hunger strike until Harper and Queen Elizabeth II or one of her representatives agreed to the treaty meeting.

“I will return to my traditional territory after such a meeting is held, or return to spend time with my ancestors in the traditional lands of my people,” said Spence, in an open letter released early Monday morning.

In the open letter, Spence said she decided to go on a hunger strike after “months” of consideration and meetings with elders.

“After a long period of reflection, the time is at hand for a clear statement,” said Spence.

Spence said the Canadian government was trying to “isolate” and “assimilate” First Nations people.

“This process of marginalizing our political leadership, along with the enforced segregation of our people is part of a deliberate (attempt) to isolate our people, marginalize our people and ultimately assimilate our people so that our rich heritage can be wiped out and the great bounty contained in our traditional lands be made available for exploitation by large multi-national companies,” said Spence.

Spence plans to spend her days during the hunger strike on Parliament Hill and her evenings on nearby Victoria Island where she will sleep inside a cabin there.

The Attawapiskat chief will be meeting with Assembly of First Nations officials before beginning her hunger strike. The AFN is helping her with her protest, said Danny Metatawbin, from Attawapiskat. An AFN spokeswoman said Spence’s hunger strike was “a personal initiative.”

Spence’s community of Attawapiskat burst onto the national consciousness last fall after images of the community’s deplorable housing flashed across the country’s television screens.

The Harper government, however, attacked the community, blaming the band for its housing situation. Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan took away the band’s control over its finances and imposed a third-party manager.