Chief’s hunger strike inspires Idle No More activists

Matt Gardner
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As the ongoing hunger strike of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence entered its 20th day in Ottawa, Idle No More supporters in Prince Albert again demonstrated in front of MP Randy Hoback’s office over the weekend.

The dozen or so protesters on Sunday afternoon expressed grave concern for the health and safety of Spence, who has pledged not to eat until Prime Minister Stephen Harper agrees to a meeting to discuss the concerns of First Nations.

“Our sister is starving right now, and Harper’s not saying anything,” protester Joyce McKenzie said. “He’s not willing to meet her, and (on) this planet, on this mother Earth, every one of us, no matter what race -- we’re all brothers and sisters.”

McKenzie asked, “Would (Harper) allow his wife, his mom or his daughter to die of hunger? … He should really think and go and meet up with Theresa … She doesn’t want a war. She just wants a meeting with him, simple as that.”

Although Idle No More has a broad focus on the environment and Aboriginal land and treaty rights, the movement crystallized around opposition to Bill C-45. But Spence’s subsequent hunger strike was like pouring gasoline onto an open fire.

Idle No More supporters planned two events for Sunday. Along with an open invitation to MPs and senators to meet with Spence, they called for supporters to hold ceremonies and rallies nationwide to put pressure on Harper.

Local activists responded by again protesting outside Hoback’s office.

“We’re trying to get a message to (Hoback) so he can support us, and hopefully he can send an e-mail message to Harper to inspire him to meet with Chief Spence,” McKenzie said.

Harper’s continued refusal to meet with Spence has incensed protesters, even as they hold out hope that mass pressure will eventually force him to acquiesce.

“We’re just hoping, I think, to get the message out to our prime minister that he needs to meet with our people,” demonstrator Beverly Boe said. “He needs to meet with the leaders, he needs to meet with Chief Spence, and he needs to stop this.

“He’s acting like a child in that he’s not willing to follow through on what is supposed to happen with our democracy, because this is not a democracy anymore.”

We’re just hoping ... to get the message out to our prime minister that he needs to meet with our people. Beverly Boe

Boe, along with her 12-year-old son Jesse Boe-Seegerts, has been highly active in the Idle No More movement since its early days. The pair even drove out to Saskatoon a few days ago to attend a rally on Boxing Day.

In a notable example of her son’s support for the movement, the boy recently skipped out on a trip with his École Vickers School class to visit the water park in Melfort -- all so he could attend an Idle No More demonstration.

“I think doing this would be way better than having one day at the water park, when I could go any time of the year,” Boe-Seegerts said.

He and his mother were both driven towards the movement by fear of the environmental damage that may result from Bill C-45.

In a familiar refrain, Boe said that pollution affects everyone regardless of ethnicity. She pointed to one distinction between her and her son to emphasize how their common struggle refutes the pigeonholing of Idle No More as a purely Aboriginal movement.

“He’s status, I’m Métis,” Boe said. “But it doesn’t matter what you are. It doesn’t matter if we’re black, red, yellow or white. What matters is we care about our environment.”

Looking to the future, she added, “I don’t want to be telling my (grandchildren) that we got to swim in Waskesiu Lake when we were kids … I don’t want to say, ‘You know, we used to swim in those lakes, but we can’t anymore because they’re all polluted and poisoned.’ That would be a really sad thing to happen.”

Another protestor, McKenzie’s husband Bruce, expressed the same sentiments with even greater brevity.

“Our rivers are clean,” he said. “We want them to stay that way.”

Organizations: First Nations, École Vickers School

Geographic location: Saskatoon, Melfort, Waskesiu Lake

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Recent comments

  • Concerned Grandmother
    January 01, 2013 - 13:39

    If the Prime Minister meets with her, then everyone who has a complaint will be expecting him to meet with them as well. She has made her point, move on.

  • Gord
    December 30, 2012 - 22:14

    Must be commended!! At least they are protesting peacefully in front of an MP's office and not closing down roads or railways unlike other native protesters. Pretty tough for the other protesters to gain any sympathy or support when they are blocking our travel routes.