Friday, December 28, 2012

A Call for Harper to Lead on First Nations File

Spence launched her protest with a vow to “die” unless the Conservative government started showing more respect to First Nations concerns and aboriginal treaties. She is demanding a meeting between the Crown, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations leaders to create a new relationship.

(From The Canadian Press, in Toronto Star, December 28, 2012, "Pressure mounting for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet Attawapiskat chief on hunger strike" below)

This story could be coming out of Burma, where Buddhist monks self-immolate to protest the Chinese government's treatment of the Burmese. In fact, I cannot recall in my lifetime a single Canadian First Nation Chief having gone this far to make her life a living and deteriorating statement of protest to the federal government. Soup and tea will not keep Chief Spence alive for very long, although there is a sense, from watching and listening to her on television, that her spirit is strong, her will committed and the support of her people across the country, and indeed around the world, is unshakable.
With the internet's capacity to make any story a global story, the Chief is not unaware of the impact of the world community on the Canadian Prime Minister.
And, to be fair, the conditions under which Canadian First Nations people live did not deteriorate only in the last decade, when Harper was in power. Those conditions have been shameful for decades, if not more than a century.
And there has never been a national political urgency to resolve the plight of the aboriginal people. There have been conferences, and papers, and recommendations, and ministers of the Crown that have come and gone, but there has never been the kind of national focus that Chief Spence is bringing to her cause, and the cause of the First Nations people in every province and territory.
It is not enough for those, like Justin Trudeau and Marc Garneau to visit and write letters to the press, in their unabashed campaigning for the leadership of the Liberal Party, although that is to be expected. It is more important for all leaders of all political parties to drop their partisan differences, and to come together in what is a national disgrace, to solve the problem, with the chiefs and band leaders from the indigenous people.
Just imagine the political pay-off, and the relief among First Nations people, if Harper were to bring all national political leaders of all federal political parties plus the band chiefs and Shawn Atleo into a public, televised meeting, in the Conference Centre in Ottawa, to not only discuss but to resolve the matters for which Chief Spence is protesting. His leadership on this issue, while not erasing other decisions of both commission and omission of his government, would serve as his legacy, for the next century, as a leader who actually knew how and was committed to untangling one of the most challenging of national gordion knots, the relationship between First Nations people and the government and people of Canada.
Instead of being the country that is tone deaf on the environment, tone deaf on prisoner rehabilitation, tone deaf on health care, tone deaf on the foreign affairs files, Harper could leave Ottawa having presided over the healing of one of the more visible and tragic national tumours that has been plaguing both indigenous people and the federal government for decades.
The time is now, the conditions cannot wait and the people want answers and not band-aids, answers that will respond to the root causes, not merely the symptoms, of this tumour.
Pressure mounting for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet Attawapiskat chief on hunger strike

From The Canadian Press, in Toronto Star, December 28, 2012
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is facing a growing chorus of calls for him to meet an aboriginal chief on a hunger strike.

On Thursday, New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said the hunger strike by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has entered a deadly serious phase.
Angus, who stood by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence as she began her fast Dec. 11, says he’s now reaching out to area chiefs to see what steps can be taken to solve what’s at risk of becoming a national crisis.
“This is much bigger than Theresa Spence, it’s much bigger than any individual community,” Angus said.
“This is across the country now, it really needs the prime minister to take action.”
Spence launched her protest with a vow to “die” unless the Conservative government started showing more respect to First Nations concerns and aboriginal treaties. She is demanding a meeting between the Crown, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations leaders to create a new relationship.
Her remote northern Ontario reserve was catapulted into the spotlight late last year after Angus wrote about the dire housing and economic conditions.
Though she has declared a hunger strike, for the last 2 ½ weeks Spence has subsisted on some soup and tea.
She has welcomed a steady stream of family, friends and other opposition politicians into her teepee on Victoria Island in the Ottawa River, just across from Parliament Hill.
The island is considered by the Anishinabe as traditional territory.
James Bartleman, Ontario’s former lieutenant-governor and a member of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, wrote a letter urging Harper to meet Spence that appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Liberal leadership contender Justin Trudeau visited Spence. His visit was followed by the issuing of a letter by fellow leadership contender Marc Garneau who said Harper shouldn’t be worried about setting a precedent by agreeing to a meeting.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan has expressed disappointment that Spence will meet with other politicians but not him.
“Given your willingness to accept meetings now I am hoping that you will reconsider my offer, as a Minister of the Crown, to meet or speak with you,” Duncan wrote Spence late Wednesday.
Duncan is offering to set up a joint working group with senior federal and First Nations representatives.

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