Editor’s note: This column was submitted prior to Friday’s announcement the Prime Minister would meet with Chiefs Jan. 11.
Gaining momentum in early December, the “Idle No More” movement has grown to become a tremendous force in Canada’s political landscape. In Edmonton and across Canada, thousands have gathered en masse in peaceful protest to speak out against the failed relationship between the Canadian Government and Canada’s First Peoples, and to encourage the Canadian Government to meet directly with Aboriginal Chiefs to address social problems and treaty concerns felt by many Canadians.
At the centre of this movement is Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. On Dec. 11, Spence began a hunger strike and demanded an audience with Stephen Harper to discuss the problems facing her people. Yet, the Prime Minister’s Office has ignored her requests, setting a negative precedent for the government’s relationship with Canada’s First Nation’s. It seems Harper can find time to meet with Justin Bieber, but is far too preoccupied to hold an audience with the starving Attawapiskat Chief.
Many others, including former Tory PM Joe Clark, found time to meet with Spence, however. In a statement Clark said he is concerned that Canada and its First Nations are “headed in a dangerous direction.”
Clark went on to say “My experience has been that direct and honest dialogue is always useful and sometimes essential, particularly in dealing with issues as complex and multi-faceted as the relations between First Nations and Canada.”
Along with Clark, Spence has met with 16 New Democrat MP’s and many across parliament have been expressing compassion for her cause, including the Liberal leadership race front-runner Justin Trudeau.
Seeking answers to issues facing Canada’s First Peoples should not be a partisan issue. Right, left or centre, it’s illogical to avoid the building of a nation-to-nation relationship between the Federal government and Canada’s First Nations. Yet the PM and much of the Tory caucus has failed to live up to their obligation to govern in the interests of all Canadians, and has ignored the pleas of Theresa Spence and many others across Canada who have called for action on social issues facing Aboriginals.
From inadequate water quality, to inaccessible medical treatment, and, in many parts of the Canadian North (including Spence’s own Attawapiskat reserve), near Third World housing conditions, there are many unanswered issues facing Aboriginal communities. These issues will never be properly addressed if the Prime Minister continues ignoring the concerns of First Nation leaders.
This is not only the fault of the Prime Minister, however. As always, either through PMO whipping or personal apathy, the Conservative backbench, including our MP Brian Storseth, have failed to hold their own leader to account by declining to express any concerns they may have with the PM’s inaction.
Suffice it to say that this government must change its narrative with First Nations if any progress will be met on Spence’s concerns for her people.
Despite this dire situation, there is hope for progress going forward. The “Idle No More” movement, formed around a concern for the fed’s inaction on First Peoples’ issues, has garnered enormous support over the past few weeks. This movement has largely been fueled by young Canadians, and has replaced apathy with a desire for action in the minds of many youth.
It appears that the road to change will be a long one, but I have absolute confidence in Canadians’ ability to make progress on difficult issues like those facing Spence and Canada’s First Peoples, even if their own government stands in the way of that progress.