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Monday, December 24, 2012

Jian's Essay on Idle No More...

Q | Dec 20, 2012 | 3:51
Jian's essay on Idle No More
Jian weighs in on Idle No More -- the slogan, the hashtag, and the movement.

CBC Player:

Watching Jian's essay on Idle No More <<<< LISTEN 

Regarding Chief Theresa Spence....

Idle No More: On the meaning of Chief Theresa Spence's hunger strike

DECEMBER 22, 2012
Poster by Andrée Cazabon
Change the conversation, support today.
Native peoples in this country have endured much worse than the disrespect Prime Minister Harper showed on Dec 21, tweeting about "mmm… bacon" while Attiwapiskat Chief Theresa Spence was on Day 11 of a hunger strike that won't end unless he agrees to a meeting between himself, the Governor General and First Nations leaders including Spence.
But it is precisely at this point where respect would be worth so much. We have an uprising in this country for Native sovereignty, the Idle No More movement. This in a country where Harper 'apologized' for genocidal residential schools, yet the next year claimed on the world stage that Canada didn't have a history of colonialism, and where the residential schools Truth and Reconcialition Commission has just had to turn to the courts in order to get the government to turn over the historical records that it needs to do its job.
And in Chief Spence's community of Attawapiskat, when they were experiencing a housing crisis in the winter cold last year, Harper ‘took leadership’ of the situation by removing management of the community from the chief and council and putting it under third-party management, which a court later ruled was it was wrong to do. But contrary to what Jian Ghomeshi said (in an otherwise great piece) about Chief Spence being on hunger strike to get Harper to meet with her to discuss the situation on her reserve, Spence is in fact doing this on behalf of all Aboriginal people in Canada (and especially for the youth).
There is some recognition in this country that Aboriginal people have been unjustly treated, that there is validity to this movement to take the government to account and to demand better. And as such, the potential for broad public support for this movement is there. (And for those who cling to justifications against Native peoples, Maclean’s has helpfully deciphered those arguments).
Chief Spence's actions are serving to supercharge this movement.
Idle No More started in Saskatchewan in November, and caught on through social media. It was this grassroots pressure, their people urging them to stand up against the government, that catalyzed some chiefs, who were having a meeting in Gatineau, to impromptly march to Parliament where a few tried to enter the House of Commons, causing a brief scuffle between them and security.

Chief Spence started her fast as the Idle No More movement continued to gather steam. She seems to have taken the lead from the grassroots people, and in turn they have taken her lead.
People have started solidarity fasts or hunger strikes (including this Cross Lake elder, that CBC can somehow report on without a single mention of Chief Spence).
Some in the public sphere have urged caution or shown disapproval for her actions: Patrick Brazeau, a Native senator appointed by Harper best known for his boxing match with Justin Trudeau, stated that he thought she wasn't setting a good example for Aboriginal youth; Kate Heartfield of the Ottawa Citizen warns that this isn't the way to deal with a government headed by Harper; and NDP MP Charlie Angus worries that this type of potential martyrdom could lead to the type of strife experienced in Northern Ireland.
But in a lot of the reporting and discussion around the hunger strike, the very act of a hunger strike or fast is seemingly not understood fully.
Like many other hunger strikers, Chief Spence is issuing a demand that must be fulfilled for her to start eating again. But she is also engaging in a practice that is very much part of spiritual traditions of First Nations' culture.
I had the opportunity earlier this year to hear about fasting in a Native context, at a talk on Aboriginal perspectives on mental health. Carol Hopkins explained the cultural importance and philosophy behind such practice, telling a story of the power of doing without, of praying, of the intent that others have some first, and of how it is not about doing only for yourself, but doing it for everyone.
In this context, a fast/hunger stike as part of Idle No More (along with the many prayer ceremonies, drumming, round dance flash mobs, etc that have been happening) shows how the very Native culture that the people are standing up for is very much alive and experiencing a (re)surgence that can be a point of hope and solidarity in this country racked with so much present and historical pain and amnesia.
As poet/musician and former American Indian Movement leader John Trudell writes in the last stanza of his poem 'This Idle No More':
a real fast way to protect the spirit is to feed the spirit real-ity of fast, a real fast, let the human sacrifice food as well thought out decision not in emotional reaction ceremony in spiritual offerings of self in physical groups or alone, or together not alone, stand fast in idle no more the ones who can, stand fast together in different places stand fast real-ity fast together join the grandmothers fast
In Ottawa this past Wednesday, there was a community feast to feed Chief Spence's spirit as she continued her fast. This was another example of how fasting is not only an individual endeavour, but something that is supported by -- just as much as it is in support of -- the broader health of the community.
As some are engaged in solidarity fasting with Chief Spence, and so many more have her and the cause in her prayers, perhaps another way to be in support is to be mindful in your eating to be not only feeding yourself but also her spirit and that of all engaged in this awakening, this (re)surgence, this whatever you would describe it as.
post I saw on facebook put it this way:
Chief Spence said the pain had just become too much – she is trying in her way To Make Medicine Out of Pain. … Chief Spence has presented a bridge to the real great divide in Canada – between the First Peoples and the rest of us – and it is an Indigenous bridge – not the non-native bridge of law and rights and bureaucracy. She is sharing her pain and her heart in a very visible way, and in her way – in a sense it is the spirit of the Friendship and Welcoming and Sharing Wampum, inviting us all to her heart.
The bridge she is creating is not only unifying Native peoples in this country, but also offering the whole country a way forward.
Someone commented that this movement is being seen as 'almost as big as Oka,' referring to the moment in Canadian history that catalyzed Native pride perhaps as never before. Perhaps this present moment can catalyze a unified movement large enough to bring about lasting practical and structural change in the relationship between the Canadian state and the original peoples of this land, and between all of us who call this land home.
Greg Macdougall is an activist and writer who maintains the website


  1. Good morning.

    I feel very out of place making a comment in this forum, but I think that is the reason I need to do so.

    I'm a white, privileged, middle-class, middle aged male, living in populous S.Ontario. My ancestry delineates back to the people who have been accused of exploiting and stealing from the native inhabitants of Canada. Honestly, I have not put much thought into it or wasted much sleep over it...until now.

    I work for a government organization. I don't work with native people or on native issues at all, but through my work I see the ways in which native issues are ignored. Not brushed under the rug or covered up, just flat out ignored. We receive news reports daily on First Nations that are in a "state of emergency". The list is long. And some have been on this list for months and months, even years. Like Attawapiskat. That First Nation was added to the list for "housing issues" on November 12th....2011. How can a state of emergency exist for years? Even the largest natural disasters eventually reach a point of recovery and regain some level of prosperity. It's a statement of what is wrong with the way native people are seen, and treated and it can not be any more obvious to me. I get the "list" emailed to me each morning.

    I feel angry at the inaction and failure to cause any real change in these communities.

    I have never been on a native reserve. My 'community' has never experienced the types of situations that I read about in the news. The suicide, the poverty, the lack of proper infrastructure, etc.

    I feel responsible. I think the apathy I have had toward first nations' issues and people makes me responsible. The separateness I feel from my own countrymen shocks me. But I've never known what to do about it. And I've never really taken the time to think about it much.

    I think what I'm trying to say is that this message and this movement is reaching people like me. People who have never been reached in the past. And honestly, I think for real change to occur, that's what needs to happen. People who have never cared about native issues before need to begin to care now.

    I support your movement and I will try to find other ways to add my support. I want my young children to understand this issue and to grow up feeling the sense of social responsibility to the First Nations' people that I have not had.

    I am hopeful that real change will happen now, and I am sending the leaders of this movement and those who are experiencing the tragedy first hand my unwavering support and encouragement. To our political leaders I am expressing my expectations that inaction is no longer acceptable and that as a member of the hard-working Canadian middle-class with little savings, bills out the wazoo, etc., my vote will go to the party who can deliver real change in our domestic policy with the First Nations people.

    1. I too live in S. Ontario and I am of mixed ancestry. I have been completely brought up in non-native culture in ignorance, though I have recently begun to change it in earnest. Your words confirm what I believe is true; this heartens me.
      This Idle No More movement and people like you have my full support. I am looking for ways to add my support in concrete ways.
      I believe this is imperative for us to move forward as Canadians. The First Nations story is the legacy of all of us.
      I am grateful that you are committed to making sure your children are aware and supporting changes right now.

  2. Canada is the country I always looked to with respect for it is a country with a clean reputation on how it treatys it's land and it's people.
    I always wanted the United States to look at Canada as a role model but now I am wondering if Canada didn't looked at our country as it's role model. What mistake that is. For the United States (love it as I do) is still not as great as Canada once was. Shame that Canada decided to be like us! Pity!

  3. As a non-native I stand with you in this crisis which has been going on far too long. The time for accepting the lies this government continues to force on the Canadian Nation is over. In standing with you I'm standing to protect my country as well as your nation. I look to the future and see little of value to pass on to our children and grandchildren If not now when? Tomorrow it will be too late to fix and we'll have nobody to blame but outselves.

  4. Happy New Year, one and all.
    I want to be represented by a government that can listen. This is the time for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to learn something from our elders. Thank you all for what you are doing to protect our land and waters. 2013 is a special time for all of us. Meegwetch


Thank you for your comment and please help spread the word, the time is NOW!