Racist Reactions To Idle No More Prompt Criticism Of Harper’s Silence
CP | By Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper is fostering hatred of aboriginals across the country by failing to condemn racist reactions to the Idle No More movement, says a women’s group.
The accusation came Friday as Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs announced that the Assembly of First Nations had approved a resolution renewing calls for a meeting with Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston on Jan. 24.
There are strong and growing racial undertones to much of the reaction seen so far to protests over aboriginal treaty rights, says Ellen Gabriel of the Indigenous Women of Turtle Island.
“We just have to look at the Oka crisis in 1990,” she said.
“The same things that (were happening then), and comments about indigenous people, are happening once again. That’s the underlying current that we see.”
The nearly three-month-long Oka crisis resulted from a conflict between Mohawk people in Kanesatake and the town of Oka, Que. One person died as a result of the land claim dispute.
Gabriel, who is from Kanesatake, made the comments after she and Leanne Simpson delivered a letter to Harper, pleading with him and Gov. Gen. David Johnston to meet with Theresa Spence.
The chief of the community of Attawapiskat in northern Ontario continued a hunger protest Friday, which began on Dec. 11, to persuade Harper and Johnston to meet together with First Nations leaders to talk about the plight of aboriginal people.
In a statement released late Friday, Spence said she is growing weak, but remains determined to see the Jan. 24 meeting take place.
“I pray that Canada will come to the table soon, as time isn’t on my side and as each day passes, so does our health, Spence said of herself and her co-hunger protester, Manitoba elder Raymond Robinson.
Chiefs from Ontario who have been among her most ardent supporters begged Spence this week to give up her protest.
And on Friday, Grand Chief Murray Clearsky of the Manitoba Southern Chiefs Organization met with Spence in her teepee on Victoria Island in the Ottawa River, where he also urged her to start eating solid food again.
“The message was, in a kind and good way, to reconsider,” said Clearsky. “She made her point, with what she accomplished.”
A simple gesture from the prime minister to meet with Spence might end her liquids-only protest, said Gabriel.
“We appeal to their sense of humanity to at least commit today to a meeting,” she said.
“It’s very important at this point in time, considering Chief Spence’s health, considering the amount of racism that we’re seeing against indigenous peoples … that this is an urgent meeting that needs to happen.”
Spence last week boycotted a meeting of some First Nations leaders with Harper because the Governor General was not in attendance. She did attend a ceremonial meeting last Friday evening with Johnston, but later dismissed the gathering through her spokesman as a waste of time.
Aboriginals see the Queen, and by extension the Governor General, as more than merely a symbolic head of state. They consider the monarchy as the rightful signatory of First Nations treaties.
But the Queen has rejected at least one appeal to intervene in Spence’s protest.
In a letter dated Jan. 7, obtained this week by The Canadian Press, Buckingham Palace told a supporter of Spence that the chief should deal instead with the federal cabinet.
“This is not a matter in which The Queen would intervene,” says the letter.
“As a constitutional Sovereign, Her Majesty acts through her personal representative, the Governor General, on the advice of her Canadian Ministers and, therefore, it is to them that your appeal should be directed.”
Manitoba chiefs rejected that argument Friday, insisting that the Crown has a direct responsibility for Canada’s First Nations people.
“From the Queen, for her to say something like that, I don’t believe it’s true,” said Clearsky. “Because there’s an obligation from her with us that’s not fulfilled.”
Demonstrations organized by the Idle No More movement have been held this week across the country. While those protests have caused some traffic disruptions and angst among commuters, none have been violent.
But several chiefs have expressed concerns that some Idle No More supporters could lash out, should Spence or Robinson die from their hunger protests.
Quebec New Democrat Romeo Saganash said a lot depends on how the prime minister handles the crisis.
“The way one deals with these situations has an impact on the reaction of natives and other Canadians,” he said outside his party’s caucus meeting on Parliament Hill.
“(Harper) did take the time to meet native leaders, even though they were not all present,” he added.
“He promised to meet them again. Again, that’s a step forward.”
The prime minister’s office has so far said that it would entertain another meeting among First Nations chiefs and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan on Jan. 24 or another date, but that Harper has not agreed to a gathering that would include the Governor General.