ABORIGINAL JUSTICE: CPT stands with Chief Theresa Spence on hunger strike

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20 December 2012
Chief Theresa Spence on hunger strike

by Chris Sabas

The Canadian Government has proposed or enacted new legislation and amended existing laws that terminate many First Nations' treaty rights.

Bill C-45, enacted 14 December, includes changes to the Indian Act that indigenous people claim weaken environmental laws and affect both the way reserve lands are leased and the way decisions involving band territories are made. Before the bill passed, Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat First Nation began a hunger strike on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada's capital city, which is located on un-ceded Algonquin territory.

Attawapiskat, an Anishinabe community in Northern Ontario, made headlines last fall/winter during a severe housing crisis that followed decades of governmental neglect. The government's response – stripping the First Nation of its financial sovereignty – was later ruled "unreasonable" by a Canadian Federal court.

"I'm willing to die for my people because the pain is too much and it's time for the government to realize what [it's] doing to us," commented Chief Spence as she began the hunger strike. After nine days, her condition appears to be weakening. Living inside a teepee, she is spending most of her time in prayer and drinking water only twice a day. She recently told CBC's Chris Rands that she will stay on Parliament Hill until "my last breath, if it takes that long."

She has requested a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and England’s Queen Elizabeth II, or her representative in Canada, Governor General David Johnston. Spence asserts that the treaties at issue were signed by the Crown and it is up to the Crown to ensure they are upheld.

The hunger strike is a part of a wider movement of First Nation activists across Canada who have united on social media and at public rallies since mid-October. Known as Idle No More, the campaign was started by four women from Saskatchewan protesting a number of bills before Parliament, including C-45. They want First Nations to be recognized as sovereign stakeholders in decisions affecting land and resources.

Christian Peacemaker Teams' Aboriginal Justice Team stands in solidarity with Chief Theresa Spence.  We call on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Canadian government to stop violating the constitutionally protected Aboriginal treaty rights in lands, waters and resources and to meet with Chief Spence. We also call on Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to join the discussion.

In addition to Bill C-45, the following proposed bills will directly affect First Nations communities:

  • C-27 First Nations Financial Transparency Act
  • S-2 Family Homes on Reserve and Matrimonial Interests or Right Act
  • S-6 First Nations Elections Act
  • S-8 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations
  • C-428 Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act
  • S-207 An Act to amend the Interpretation Act
  • S-212 First Nations Self-Government Recognition and the "First Nations" Private Ownership Act

CPTer Colin Stuart and supporters in Ottawa will hand deliver a letter of support to Chief Spence during a planned Idle No More rally in support of her hunger strike on Friday, 21 December.  Our prayers remain with Chief Theresa Spence.