Dec. 19, 2012
By Christopher Curtis
OTTAWA – Theresa Spence gets dizzy if she walks more than a few steps.
The Attawapiskat chief is getting weaker as her hunger strike is in its second week, but Spence says she won’t eat until Prime Minister Stephen Harper agrees to meet with her and other aboriginal leaders across Canada.
Since she began her protest, Spence has spent her days in isolation on the tiny aboriginal territory of Victoria Island, which sits across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill.
These days Spence barely has enough strength to leave the teepee she’s been sleeping in. She drinks a small cup of fish broth each day to fend off sickness.
“My spirits are good,” she said, warming by a wooden fire in her makeshift home. “I hear drumming every day and people singing songs for me every day … it’s encouraging.”
Chief Spence’s strike has become the focal point for Idle No More, an aboriginal rights movement that has captured the imagination of Canada’s First Nations peoples.
When she first set foot on Victoria Island less than two weeks ago, Idle No More was a regional protest movement strung together by aboriginal women who met on Facebook. But the campaign has since exploded in popularity, spurring dozens of protests and three highway blockades and inspiring thousands to demand a more equitable relationship between the federal government and aboriginals.
Several solidarity hunger strikes were launched last week and, Tuesday, a man was arrested in Labrador after cutting down a hydro poll to support Idle No More.
Now it appears the movement has extended beyond the First Nations community and into mainstream political discourse. In the past week, all three opposition parties voiced their support for Spence’s strike, which has been endorsed by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
“It kind of freaks me out how big this thing has gotten,” said Tanya Kappo, who co-founded the movement in November. “It wasn’t my intention to start something like this, I just wanted people to know how their lives could be affected by (Bill C-45).”
Kappo worries that new laws outlined in Bill C-45 would clear the way for aboriginals to sell plots of their land to non-natives, threatening traditional practices and eroding their language.
“This guarantees the end of reserve lands,” Kappo told Postmedia News. “The kind of life my parents live, the kind of live our people live is only possible because of the reserve system. It’s ironic that the same system created to assimilate us is actually what has allowed us to keep our way of life.”
Like most of the four women behind Idle No More, Kappo is struggling to co-ordinate the growing wave of demonstrations while keeping up with her duties as a law student and mother.
Kappo said that if there isn’t a concerted effort to improve the lives of Canada’s native population, her daughters will grow up in a world where the odds are heavily stacked against them.
“Statistically, if you’re a native woman you’re twice as likely to die a violent death, you’re more likely to fall victim to abuse and I don’t want that for my kids,” she said. “We just want to be treated like everyone else, we want to preserve our way of life but have the same opportunities non-aboriginals have.”
The Idle No More movement is expected to stage its most elaborate event Friday, when each major Canadian city will host a protest in support of Chief Spence’s strike. Similar events have also been planned in California, Minnesota and in London, England.
“We’re seeing a rejection of old strategies right now,” said Wab Kinew, the First Nations co-ordinator at the University of Manitoba. “Aboriginal people have tried sitting down with the government, they’ve tried doing it the bureaucratic way but it isn’t working. So they aren’t going to wait for the Assembly of First Nations, they aren’t going to wait for their leaders. They’re going to lead the charge.”
Full Article Here – http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/national/Aboriginal+rights+movement+Idle+More+spreads+beyond/7723279/story.html