by Sandy Greenberg and Linda Christiansen-Ruffman, Nova Scotia Voice of Women for Peace, Halifax
On Sunday, December 30, despite the stormy weather and less than 24 hours notice, over 100 people gathered in Victoria Park in Halifax to support the “Idle No More” movement and Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation. Chief Spence had been fasting for twenty days without solid food to support her request to speak with Prime Minister Harper as representative of one nation to another. The Idle No More movement, initiated by four Aboriginal women, has captured the imaginations of Canadians of all ages who have shown their support through letters, petitions, street actions, ceremonial drummings, speeches, and sympathetic fasts.
The storm briefly abated while Mi’kmaq singer and drummer Joan Smith led the group in the Women’s Warrior Song and the Round Dance, and Mi’kmaq elder Billy Lewis spoke of the importance of women’s leadership. Nova Scotia Voice of Women for Peace expressed our support through our presence, banners, and brief statement. The national Canadian Voice of Women for Peace has sent a letter to Prime Minister Harper as well as encouraging others to join in solidarity.
Canadians who want to see a livable future in our country, and a just future, share the concerns being raised by Chief Spence. We all need fresh water to drink, clean air to breath, and housing that we can be healthy in. Right now these needs are not being met in Attawapiskat and in so many other native communities. This is Theresa Spence’s pain, and this is Canada’s shame.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, who has called on the Canadian government to take greater action to invest in Aboriginal communities, stated, “The social and economic situation of the Attawapiskat seems to represent the condition of many First Nation communities living on reserves throughout Canada, which is allegedly akin to Third World conditions.”
We were encouraged when Prime Minister Harper, representing all Canadians, apologized for the residential school system in 2008 and promised to build a new relationship based on partnership and respect. But actions speak louder than words. The Canadian constitution entitles First Nations to substantive consultations. The federal government has not been honouring these commitments and longstanding treaties with the First Nations. In 2006, the Harper government canceled the Kelowna Accord that committed $5 billion to improve education, health care and housing in Aboriginal communities across the country. Earlier this year, the Conservative government cut funding to some aboriginal groups. This summer, despite protests from indigenous groups, it also passed omnibus Bill C-38 which contained very damaging measures to weaken environmental assessments and threaten Aboriginal territory. Now Bill C-45, in the words of Idle No More founder Sylvia McAdam, “is not just about a budget, it is a direct attack on First Nations lands and on the bodies of water we all share from across this country,” The proposed Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (FIPPA) also threatens indigenous rights, and there has been no consultation on its implications. If the Harper government is sincere in respecting indigenous rights in this country and working in partnership, now is the time to take those very important steps to Chief Spence’s teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa just steps from Parliament Hill, and listen to what she has to say.
These issues go far beyond First Nations concerns. We see the erosion of Canadian democracy and the threats to our air, water, and soil–the elements that sustain us all. We see the connection between the issues of the environment, justice, women’s rights, native rights, the growing inequality between rich and poor, and the right to a peaceful existence on this earth. We see that the Harper government is squandering our future by ignoring both the rights of native peoples and the rights of all Canadians.
We understand the importance of Aboriginal women leaders refusing to support the domination and violence that have characterized our world for centuries. They will help us end colonialism, militarism, bullying, rape, and wars, and teach us ways towards peace, equality, and respect for each other and the earth.
This is an issue for all Canadians. We can no longer be idle. We stand with Chief Spence and for future generations.