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Chief Theresa Spence won her point, is pushing it further, and is paying for doing so. She went on a hunger strike December 11th to demand a meeting with the Prime Minister. That meeting will happen on January 11th and she will attend at the invitation of the National Chief. That constitutes a win for her.
Then she moved the goalposts. Chief Spence now says she won’t stop her hunger strike until after the meeting, pending her consideration of its outcomes. "We'll see what the results are, if there's really a positive result, because there are a lot of issues that we need to discuss," she said when the meeting was announced.
That approach is a way to keep up the pressure for results from this meeting. The challenge is that Chief Spence has not indicated what outcomes would be sufficient for her to end her fast. If she stops her fast after the meeting, that choice likely will be seen as an endorsement of whatever results there are, whether she thinks so or not. If she has specific expectations, it would help others to know in advance what they are so that they might discuss and pursue them. At the least, one expects she will make them explicit during the meeting.
By extending her hunger strike, Chief Spence remains an important part of the drama, but she faces a difficult choice. There is no human being who could last on a hunger strike long enough for all the problems facing First Nations to be resolved. A clear statement of her expectations might help people to achieve that specific goal and give her a way to abandon her hunger strike with declaration of another victory. It is frightening to think what might happen if she decides to hold out for what isn’t coming. Even after all the attempts to discredit her.
And those attempts are the price she is paying for standing up to Stephen Harper, the wrath of the Conservative spin machine.
Last week saw the corruption and mismanagement cards played again. Chief Spence defeated government charges of financial mismanagement in the courts a year ago. The judge said the government’s position was “unreasonable”. But now, lending those claims credence among the credulous, there is an audit.
The audit shows no wrongdoing. It shows that some funds were spent without sufficient supporting documentation to provide a paper trail from receipt all the way through expenditure. It makes no reference to fraud, or waste, corruption or any suggestion of illegality.
Many audits find the federal government equally lacking in its management of funds. But the attacks will ignore that fact as well as the long history that informs which party has the greater responsibility for the way things are now.
Excuses could be made about a lack of staff and skills and time, or about the reporting burden that the Auditor General has highlighted and the Harper government recently increased, or about the fact that Theresa Spence wasn’t even Chief for the vast majority of the time covered by the audit, but those are seen as excuses by those making the smears. Accounting practices have to be handled carefully, they say, and that’s a valid point, insofar as it goes.
That this reflects on Indigenous people generally or on the broader struggle for Indigenous rights is vile nonsense. The idea that whatever happens in one place is representative of all others, that a single or a few examples can be generalized to a group, is the very definition of racism. The logic goes like this: I know someone of background X and that person does Y, therefore all people of background X are predisposed to do Y. If you think like this, it is wrong, both morally and logically. Stop it. If your media reports this kind of garbage as “commentary”, cancel your subscription because they are polluting your head. If your government reinforces it, you may need to look at how you vote.
The movement is not about Attawapiskat alone, it is about justice for all Indigenous communities. Any mismanagement of funds, if in fact that were the case, wouldn’t reverse the injustices against which people are fighting; it only makes them worse.
There’s a Conservative attack on Chief Spence because she made herself a focal point of the movement. Holding firm, she is heralded by supporters as a warrior or a hero. Personally, she struck me as a regular human being when we met, just somebody with a very tough job to do.
Rather than help her do that job, the Conservatives are attacking her in the hope that it discredits the movement and distracts from their own colossal failure regarding Indigenous rights in Canada. Consider that fact the next time the question comes up in conversation of why, 145 years after Confederation, we’re still struggling with injustice toward Indigenous peoples.
Tomorrow, Prime Minister Stephen Harper.