Jan. 10, 2013 - Issue #899: The games we play
The time to eat is now
January 11 will mark 30 days since Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat gave up solid food, saying she wouldn't eat until Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnson agreed to meet with her to talk about treaty rights and the plight of her people. That is also the day the meeting is supposed to happen, but Spence won't go because Johnson won't be there.
On January 4, Harper announced he would meet with a delegation of aboriginal leaders—including Spence—for a "working meeting." Despite that, Spence remains on her hunger strike and has said it might stay that way if both Harper and Johnson don't meet with her. Spence wants results, and she's willing to live on a diet of fish broth, lemon water and medicinal teas to get them.
But, like everyone else, Spence must know that one meeting can't—and won't—solve all of the issues facing her community, a reserve of about 1500 people in northern Ontario that has been in a state of emergency several times because of its poor housing conditions. That fact couldn't have become more clear this week following the release of an audit on January 7 showing the band council has failed to keep adequate records to account for millions of dollars of federal funding—funding that was meant for things like housing and education.
There's no quick fix for Attawapiskat, not for its housing problems or its financial situation. If Spence wants to see her community succeed, it's time she returned to a normal diet and meets with Harper, whether Johnson is there or not. Little more can be achieved with the prolongation of her hunger strike. After 30 days without food, Spence has become the face of Idle No More—an aboriginal movement fighting against omnibus Bill C-45. Now she needs to be healthy and strong so she can enter the meeting with the Prime Minister with a clear head.
At this point, if she eats a sandwich, nothing will be lost. She is already an inspiration to many, and she's succeeded in garnering national media attention, both for her own community and for aboriginal people across the country.
Now it's time to think about her health and to think about proactive solutions that will improve the situation for her people.
And it's also time to do some damage control. Up until this week, media coverage has been all sunshine and roses for Spence, but that support is quickly dwindling, especially since the release of the Deloitte and Touche audit, showing more than 400 of the reviewed transactions lacked the necessary paperwork or receipts.
Although the release of the audit, commissioned by the Conservative government, was clearly politically-timed, that tactic is succeeding in tarnishing Spence's reputation.
It's time to enjoy a good meal and prepare for the January 11 meeting. V
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