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Racist Reactions To Idle No More Prompt Criticism Of Harper’s Silence

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.


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On Ceremonial Meetings and Great White Fathers – Native News Network

On “Ceremonial Meetings” and Great White Fathers

Lee Sprague in Native Condition.

A ‘Ceremonial Meeting’ has two meanings: When a colonial government describes a meeting as ceremonial, it is a meeting of no substance. You show up; admire the quaint costumes; and get your required photo-op with the Natives. You try to assuage their troubled native souls as the Great White Father. You may give them a medal, yet still keep their lands, tax their steps, move them to another location until the government finds something the Indian has that the government must have. The government always seems to want what the Indians has left, including our dignity. Not saying they will get it, just that they covet what the Indian has.

Lee Sprague, Little River Band of Ottawa IndiansLee Sprague Little River Band of Ottawa Indians

So since “ceremony” is an English word, its meaning can change. We witness this when we look at the words on paper, and then 150 years later, the government tells us what it means now. The other words supposedly are dead and have become meaningless. The fact that the government is persistent in changing the meanings of words is a characteristic we have identified, we are not dull.

On the other hand, when the American Indian has a ceremonial meeting, it is a meeting of substance, of consequence, as it should be if you lead a ceremonial life.

Midewiwin is our spiritual way of life among American Indians in region of Indian country. It is the way that you live, wonder at the great mysteries of life, and clearly see those who disregard those mysteries of life. Not a ceremony just on a weekend day or during a ‘Meeting with the Natives’.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence – who today is in Day 35 of a hunger strike – having a ceremonial life understands the difference. Prime Minister Harper obviously does not understand a ceremonial life.

Prime Minister Harper knows his status in history depends on not caving in to the First Nations peoples is substance, while getting signatures on a piece of paper that become dead words as soon as the ink dries.

The Great White fathers of a colonial state is not a racial or gender position or designation. Black or female would not change how the Great White Father operates.

The Great White father is a position that must covet what the Indian has.

Here in the United States, President Obama is a Great White Father – even though his skin pigmentation is darker than his predecessors. American Indian concerns about the Keystone XL pipeline have not been properly considered. The State of Nebraska concerns have been. American Indian concerns on water, air and the condition of our forests, our clan relations are diminished.

The Great White Father is more than racial or gender. We do not escape the Great White Father if a black person, or female person holds the Power of the Great White Father. Great White Father has more than one meaning it appears and I am not fooled. Great White Father is colonial in nature as it manifest itself in our lives. The Great White Father is continually, pervasively, undermining American Indian sensibilities as it must. The position of Great White Father is in turn coveted, and by more than white men.

With Deep Concern.

Lee Sprague is a tribal member of Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, based in Manistee, Michigan. He currently serves on the Tribal Council.

posted January 14, 2013 8:10 am est


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Queen declines to intervene in Chief Spence’s protest – Politics – CBC News

Queen declines to intervene in Chief Spence’s protest

Buckingham Palace says chief should appeal to federal cabinet

The Canadian Press

Posted: Jan 17, 2013 5:15 PM ET

Last Updated: Jan 17, 2013 9:42 PM ET

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on Dec. 6. Spence is now six weeks into her liquids-only protest.Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on Dec. 6. Spence is now six weeks into her liquids-only protest. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

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The Queen has rejected an appeal to intervene in Chief Theresa Spence’s liquids-only protest, but says she is taking “careful note” of concerns for the chief’s health.

In a letter dated Jan. 7, obtained by The Canadian Press, Buckingham Palace tells 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.”

The letter also says the Queen understands the concerns about the welfare of Spence, who is now well into her sixth week of protest, surviving on fish broth and tea.

“Her Majesty has taken careful note of the concern you express for the welfare of Attawapiskat First Nations Chief Theresa Spence who is currently on a politically motivated hunger strike in Canada.”

Spence supporter wrote appeal to Queen

The response is addressed to Jonathan Francoeur, a small businessman in British Columbia who took it upon himself to write to the Queen on Dec. 15. It is signed by Miss Jennie Vine, deputy to the senior correspondence officer.

A spokesman for Spence said he believed the letter to be a fake, but he also said he did not know Francoeur. He did not respond to questions about why he believed the letter was not genuine.

Francoeur said he wrote the letter on his own initiative and not in an official capacity. There is a long Facebook trail starting Dec. 15 describing the process he went through to write the letter, decide the content and post it. Francoeur received the response earlier this week and said there was absolutely no reason to believe the response was a fake.

Joanne Charette, spokeswoman for Rideau Hall, also said the letter looked genuine.

A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace said they would not comment on personal correspondence.

“I was reading a (Facebook) post and it was explaining the cause,” Francoeur said in a telephone interview, when asked why he wrote to Buckingham Palace.

“It said to support the cause, it would be good for somebody to write the Queen and the prime minister.”

Francoeur said he was at home nursing a broken toe and had time on his hands to compose the letters. He has not yet heard back from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, so now he has written to the Queen a second time.

“I can’t communicate with the prime minister,” he said. “I wanted her to know.”

Spence is camped out on Victoria Island, within sight of the Parliament Buildings, where she says she will continue to protest until the Governor General and the prime minister meet all chiefs on the plight of First Nations people.

She announced last week she would boycott a meeting between the Assembly of First Nations and Harper because the Governor General would not be attending.

“We have sent a letter to Buckingham Palace, requesting that Queen Elizabeth II send forth her representative, which is the Governor General of Canada,” Spence said in a statement on Jan. 9.

By that day, the response from the palace to Francoeur was already in the mail. The Queen’s response was circulated among chiefs and Spence supporters this week.

Letter signals Harper’s responsibility

While the letter may remove the palace from any official role in the controversy, it does send a signal to the prime minister that he bears great responsibility for the lengthy protest by Spence, said Isadore Day, chief of the Serpent River reserve near Elliot Lake, Ont.

“The prime minister needs to have a little bit of moral reflection,” Day said.

‘We think she’s done her part, done her job. We don’t want anyone to die.’Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee

The fact the Queen wrote back at all is telling, he said.

“What I hear in that letter is a recognition and a concern for her health. That message should get through to the prime minister.”

A growing list of political leaders and chiefs has begged Spence to give up her protest in order to maintain her health and lead her people. On Thursday, chiefs from Ontario who have been among her most ardent supporters echoed that message.

“We think she’s done her part, done her job. We don’t want anyone to die,” said Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Union of Ontario Indians.

Spence did not speak to reporters Thursday, nor did her spokespeople return messages. But Michele Audette, the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada who has grown close to Spence, says the chief was feeling “lively” on Wednesday night.

Potential ‘backlash’ if Spence dies

Chiefs are reluctantly beginning to contemplate what could happen if Spence or her co-protester Raymond Robinson die from their hunger protests.

“We have no idea about what this would trigger. So we’re scared about that,” said Madahbee.

Many chiefs are hoping that elders and people with cultural ties to Spence will be able to appeal to her to eat solid food again.

But Spence has indicated she will persist until the prime minister and Governor General hold a meeting with a broad array of chiefs.

There’s a small chance there could be a meeting Jan. 24, but Harper’s officials have said that it would be a one-on-one with National Chief Shawn Atleo, currently on sick leave because of the flu and exhaustion from dealing with political crises.

“I really think there will be a huge backlash of some sort” if Spence actually dies, said Judith Sayers, a University of Victoria assistant professor with decades of experience working with First Nations.

So many First Nations people are newly engaged in daily politics these days because of the Idle No More protest movement, and they are upset about the way meetings last week between Harper and the AFN took place, Sayers said.

“I think it could be mayhem.”

Letter from Buckingham Palace to Jonathan Francoeur.Letter from Buckingham Palace to Jonathan Francoeur. (Canadian Press) © The Canadian Press, 2013


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Chief Spence Letter to First Nations Chiefs-Grand Chiefs – Native News Network

Chief Spence Releases Letter to First Nations Chiefs and Grand Chiefs

Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Challenges. Discussion »

VICTORIA ISLAND, OTTAWA, CANADA Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence on Tuesday, Day 36 of her hunger strike, released the contents of the a letter she sent to First Nations Chiefs and Grand Chiefs.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa SpenceAttawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence

The letter seeks to clarify her reason for continuing her hunger strike in the wake of last week’s meetings that took place between First Nations chiefs and top Canadian officials.

In the letter, Chief Spence responds to those who have asked her to end the hunger strike she has been on since December 11.

Our exit or to end this hunger strike will be on our own terms. We ask all of you to respect that and ask you to refocus on the spirit and the intent of this movement,

she writes.

While she never mentions National Chief Shawn Atleo by name, she asks the chiefs to disregard any talk of his removal.

We call on all of you not to waste any more energy on determining the future of our National Chief – for what took place for the past month is beyond us all as individuals,

Chief Spence admonishes the chiefs.

Given the gravity of the Canada’s current First Nations crisis and particularly Chief Spence’s continued hunger strike, Native News Network is publishing the letter from Chief Spence to the First Nations chiefs in its entirety:

Victoria Island, Ottawa, January 15, 2013

Att.: All First Nations Chiefs and Grand Chiefs

Re: Status of Hunger Strike and National Leadership Situation

Dear Chiefs and Grand Chiefs:

Today marks the 36th day of my hunger strike, 35th day for Mr. Raymond Robinson of Manitoba and yesterday Mr. Jean Sock from New Brunswick was his 28th day and his last. We owe a great depth of gratitude to Jean for his support by joining me and Raymond in our protest. In return we extend our full support and we respect his decision to end his hunger strike to attend to his ailing mother, and also to be with his youth who are struggling to comprehend our cause. We pray for his complete recovery and we send prayers to his mother, his family and to have a safe journey home.

With this letter, I want to make it clear once again the purpose of our hunger strike as well as to inform all of you the state of my health and Raymond. We also wanted to take this opportunity to express our position of the events leading to the meeting of January 11, 2013 and the current situation we are in.

As I stated from the beginning, something had to be done to bring our Nations immediate needs, treaty implementation issues among many other issues to the brought attention of the prime minister along with the Crown in meeting on Nation to Nation basis at the earliest time possible.

Now, that the meetings with the prime minister and the governor general have taken place, despite the fact that the Chiefs met with them separately, like many of you the confusion has yet to subside as I continue to wait for the details in what was actually achieved. It is without a doubt, the events leading up to the meeting of January 11, 2013 with the prime minister and the evening with the governor general, as well as the communication breakdown that day and into that night truly tested our unity once again.

Along with Mr. Raymond Robinson, Mr. Jean Sock and I, we call on all of you not to waste any more energy on determining the future of our National Chief – for what took place for the past month is beyond us all as individuals. We all began with a purpose, we had a plan, we need now to refocus and stick to the original plan to propose and follow our own agenda. This is our best chance to settle the struggles our Nations have had to endure for far too long.

We need the National Chief as much as we need each other. With the challenges ahead, we need to spend less energy fighting amongst ourselves; instead we must focus on finding a common ground, a common understanding and respecting each other’s goals and objectives. We must stand united, strengthen our unity and agree on an agenda that works for all of us and not just the few. The politics within our camp can wait and work itself out on its own time.

What we have endured here at the island is a small price to pay compared to what our ancestors, our own mothers and fathers endured. Putting aside the real purpose of our hunger strike, this was our way to pay tribute to our ancestors who have forgone some of the harshest periods in our history, to honor those among our Nations who continue to struggle for the basic standard of living to this day, as well as to raise new hope among our youth and to protect our future generations.

From the beginning, the support and prayers from all of you, from our grassroots, elders, women and particularly the youth brought us comfort and assurance that we are all in this together. This must continue.

Many of you have asked me directly or called on us indirectly to stop our hunger strike, but as we stated before, our exit or to end this hunger strike will be on our own terms. We ask all of you to respect that and ask you to refocus on the spirit and the intent of this movement.

Together, meaning the Idle No More movement, as hunger strikers, others who are fasting for the same cause with the support of our grassroots, our protesters, you the leaders, we have all been part of something historic which brought in all of us a sense of pride; our people have come together in solidarity for a common cause. The citizens of this country have also taken notice and we have their attention. Soon the rest of the world must to be informed and this Government along with the Crown must accept that the only way forward in this country is a renewed relationship with First Nations, but that it must begin within a meeting with both the PM and Governor General present.

We are honored to be able to contribute to raising awareness of our Nations pressing issues, past and current struggles, as well as the challenges ahead. As more protests are being scheduled, we hope that the peace be maintained and ask all of you to encourage your members to remain peaceful and respectful.

Furthermore, we acknowledge and respect the Idle No More movement, their founders and spokespeople for promoting awareness of the controversial omnibus bills recently passed in the Senate. Our fights may be different, but our dreams and hopes for our people are common.

We will assess carefully our next steps in the coming days and will continue to remain optimistic. Our spirits are up, but we are growing weaker by the day but we do our best to maintain our health. We ask you to respect our choices and to leave us the decision when and if this hunger strike should end.

My fellow Chiefs, on behalf of Mr. Robinson and Mr. Sock, we thank you for your continued prayers and support. We ask you now to focus on the task at hand and please do not to worry about us; our people and our youth deserve real change and nothing more. May the Creator guide us through the challenges up ahead.

Gichi Meegwetch,

Chief Theresa Spence

Attawapiskat First Nation

posted January 16, 2013 8:10 am est


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Worldwide Day of Action by Idle No More Peace Movement â?” Native News Network

Worldwide Day of Action Called by “Idle No More” Peace Movement

January 28

Native News Network Staff in Native Challenges. Discussion »

FIRST NATIONS, CANADA Idle No More grassroots founders and organizers from across Canada, in solidarity with Common Causes – a new initiative bringing together social justice, environmental, labour and other activist groups – are planning a national and worldwide day of action on January 28th. This day of action will peacefully protest attacks on democracy, Indigenous sovereignty, human rights and environmental protections when Canadian MPs return to the House of Commons on January 28th.

First Nations, Idle No MoreWorldwide Day of Action January 28th

As a grassroots movement, clearly no political organization speaks for Idle No More. This movement is of the people for the people.

The vision of Idle No More revolves around Indigenous ways of knowing rooted in Indigenous sovereignty to protect water, air, land and all creation for future generations. The Conservative government bills beginning with Bill C-45 threaten Treaties and this Indigenous vision of sovereignty. The goal of the movement is education and to revitalize Indigenous peoples through awareness and empowerment.

Idle No More has successfully encouraged knowledge sharing of Indigenous sovereignty and environmental protections. This message has been heard around the world and the world is watching how Canada responds to the message sent by many Idle No More supporters.

Idle No More urges the government of Canada to repeal all legislation which violates Treaties, Indigenous sovereignty and subsequently environmental protections of land and water. Idle No More is grateful to many leaders who have supported this vision and the movement of the grassroots people.

The Treaties are the last line of defense to protect water and lands from destruction,

stated Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper Turtle Clan, Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs.

posted January 15, 2013 6:00 am est


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“We have a deep and incredibly poisonous relationship with the Indian Act and the long roots of colonization. The Idle No More movement calls for an end to this relationship. The Idle No More movement is beginning to reawaken the spirits of the People.

We have a lot to unlearn.

We have to find our place in the circle and Idle No More is calling people back to the circle. We’re in the process of repairing ourselves as individuals, families, communities & Nations.

Everything we do is political – we are Anishinaabe.”

(quoted from this post)

This is a beautifully personal and deeply aware essay that I hope everyone will take the time to read. All of my life I have looked up to and admired activists and thinkers who I later discovered to be Nish people. When I was older I met a young lady who was so wise and knowledgeable I mistook her for a professor, when she was in fact an Anishinaabe college student. Her friendship and kindness, along with that great wisdom and knowledge had a far greater effect on my life than she is probably aware of.

Even tho Anishinaabe people are not the only ones who experience a lot of what this essay describes, many Nish people do seem to be natural leaders with a talent for speaking and writing in ways that touch a listener or reader and open our understanding.

Nearly everyone on Earth has now been colonized or is a descendant of people who have been-it has shaped our modern world into a non-culture of non-awareness. Because of this, every act of becoming more aware, of learning about your history, ancestors and real cultures is a political act. Every time we open our eyes and our minds to ideas beyond the narrow limits of the consumer “culture” box we are trained to live in, it is a political act, an act of liberation.

IdleNoMore is indeed calling us all to awaken, to rejoin the circle, heal ourselves and our communities and support one another in taking back the power from those who see all power as power-over-others, as power-to-consume-and-profit.

This essay affected me deeply, perhaps because I have some very similar experiences being mixed race and growing up far from any of my ancestors lands, always feeling not quite enough, out of place everywhere, a sort of imposition on all the people who ‘belong’ . I feel like the author is speaking to all of us, not just Native people, because even tho for many colonization happened so long ago it’s bitter effects are invisible, they are real.

Modern society has a pervasive sense of loss and emptiness that has been much written about but never resolved. I think this is because what is missing was stolen so long ago the people no longer recall what it was. Native people still remember what was stolen, and many are finding and creating ways to get it back, to rebuild what was destroyed by colonization.

It is my hope that people will come together to support First Nations people in IdleNoMore and discover not only the power of Solidarity to change the world and topple corruption and greed, but also that we ALL have a lot to unlearn. We all are called back to the circle, to heal ourselves and our communities, to rebuild a world for us all that is based on love instead of greed.


by Ryan McMahon

Want to listen to the audio version instead? Go listen to it here!

“Everything you do, Grandson, is going to be political. You’re Anishinaabe.”

Those are the words of my Grandmother.

My Grandmother wasn’t a politician or a cultural leader in any sort of way. She was a beadworker and a master of the various trades that involved moose hides. She was a good hunter and an excellent fisherman. One of my first memories I have of my Grandma was her pulling up to my parents house in the middle of the afternoon with a dead deer she had shot while hunting in Minnesota. We lived in Ontario. She drove across the US/Canada border with a dead buck on the hood of her car. I imagine the Customs officer had a hard time letting her cross that day. I can hear her stubborn defense for bringing…

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This is an excellent thought provoking post. I recommend it especially if you are a supporter of #IdleNoMore and want to understand more fully.
Tai Alfred has long been one of my heroes, thanks to my friend Estrella who introduced me to his work.

It is perhaps only my personal bias, but I feel that if we intend to resist colonized ‘culture’ and the structures it uses to enforce top-down power-over based control systems on people and the planet, the very best thing we can do is look first to indigenous scholars, teachers and activists.

These are the only people who have an understanding of what LIFE is outside of colonization, of how to really take apart the system and oppose it effectively because they have and live in other systems that are more real and functional.
(excerpt of post below)
So, what are the terms of engagement? They depend on the Indigenous land and culture that you are co-existing and co-resisting with. This is not a benign, universalizing “We are all one” project that is devoid of power relations. There must be a conscious engagement with the domination of colonialism and the active resurgence of alternative, Indigenous ways of thinking and acting in the world. Resistance is lived out, through everyday acts of resurgence. We must actively apply the theories of decolonization to our daily acts of creation and resurgence. As Taiaiake Alfred calls it in his book Wasase, we must engage in “creative contention.”


by Eric Ritskes

What are the terms of engagement for the resurgence of Indigenous nationhood?

Last night, Kahnawake Mohawk scholar Taiaiake Alfred, in an #IdleNoMore forum hosted by the Indigenous Governance (IGOV) program at the University of Victoria (hashtagged on Twitter as #J16Forum), responded to a commenter who was distraught by the term ‘settler’ with this comment:

As a visitor, you can’t demand to be respected on your own terms.

This, along with Taiaiake’s earlier-in-the-night assertion that #IdleNoMore needs to be in tandem with a movement towards Indigenous nationhood, made me think: for decolonization to happen (something I define as -in short – resurgent action towards Indigenous sovereignty), what are the terms of engagement?

For myself, a settler in a settler-colonial state such as Canada, I believe what Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox lays out clearly, that one of the decolonization tasks is “co-existence through co-resistance“. What are the terms of…

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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