Chief Theresa Spence has now completed her 12th day on a hunger strike on Victoria Island – a sacred place on unceded Algonquin territory along the Ottawa River. Yesterday, I had the honour of being in the presence of 1000 Aboriginal leaders who had come by bus from all across the country to meet with her and then to march to Parliament Hill. They were there to call on the Harper government to recognize Treaty rights and respect them. “Two Row – Wampum” was one of the chants that marchers called out as we marched together along Wellington street. “Treaty Rights – Respect Them”. They called on all Canadians to come to think about what the concept of respect really means. The snow was wet and heavy. We soon became soaked and every now and then the rich smell of sage, cedar and sweetgrass would float around us. “That medicine smells good”, said a woman just behind me. Young people held signs saying “We came 3,000 km to see Chief Spence and Harper won’t even come 3 km”, “When Injustice Becomes Law, Resistance Becomes Duty”, Resistance is sexy” and “Harper sucks moose balls”.
Over the past two weeks, “Idle No More” has emerged as a serious national movement that is putting the federal government on notice that First Nations will not tolerate the continued violation of their Treaty rights. The movement is large and is growing rapidly and all Canadians should be aware that the federal government has an obligation to ensure the free, prior and informed consent before engaging in any activity that concerns First Nations peoples. Chief Spence’s hunger strike is born of her own experience of fighting for her people who face the ongoing crisis in Attiwapiskat and of the long-past-urgent need for national action on poverty in First Nations communities.
It was a deep honour to be able to stand at the doorway of her encampment, offer tobacco and share a statement of support from the Canadian labour movement.
It is imperative that workers put those words into actions now by standing with Chief Theresa Spence and the Idle No More movement in meaningful ways.
Here are some pictures from the Idle No More march in Ottawa on December 21.