View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Chief Theresa Spence Idle No More – Ends Her Hunger Strike – January 25, 2013

DrEvilCFN – With a final media show, Chief Spence has now ended her 44 day “reduced food” diet. The question should now turn to what did she accomplish?

Are Canadians more aware today and do they have a better understanding of the abysmal living conditions in First Nations communities? Probably not, such conditions were already well known and have been for decades.  To her credit, when Spence began her “hunger strike” she did succeed in creating a spike in interest in some broader aboriginal issues. However, her stubbornness and overplaying her hand will have nullified much of the good will she initially gained for First Nations issues with the general population.

Has she succeeded in uniting the First Nations leadership so that they can negotiate from a position of strength with this Prime Minister? No, she has done the exact opposite. National chief Atleo has been weakened, perhaps fatally and no amount of phony rhetoric about going forward united can cover that up.

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has also been weakened. Internal divisions are much more evident and it will be more difficult to get the chiefs to accept any agreement that Atleo and the Prime Minister might reach. Too many chiefs staked out their positions in front of the national media.  To reach an agreement would require various chiefs to back down from their very public demands and that is not likely to happen.

Some would argue that she has instilled a sense of pride in members of the First Nations, especially the younger generation. I would argue that with a rich history, culture and traditions, it has always been there and any renewed interest is more likely due to the founders of the Idle No More Movement, not Chief Spence. It was this grass roots movement that deserves the credit for getting the government’s attention. Yes, she was and still is an inspiration to some of the participants in this movement, but she was never a spokesperson for it. The movement will continue to gain strength with or without Chief Spence and the anger expressed by many participants’ remains valid as long as issues remain unresolved. The movement will not go away and this summer could be an interesting one for the government if they can’t show real progress on First Nations issues.

Nor was Spence successful with her original demand that there be an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister and Governor-General. She did manage to get a meeting between the Prime Minister and the AFN moved up to an earlier date, but that is one that would have happened anyways.

Spence was successful in getting the Liberal and NDP caucus to sign a 13-point declaration, but what is that paper worth? Bob Rae is the interim leader of the Liberals and a new Liberal leader will be elected shortly and some of the candidates aren’t even in the caucus. Will they feel bound by this document, regardless of what conditions they might face down the road? When in opposition it’s your job to criticize the government, but the key is to remember that one day you might be the government and your view of the world and how government functions might suddenly change. For example, every opposition party (including the two founding parties for the Conservatives) is always opposed to omnibus bills. Do you want to lock yourself into and tie the hands of any future government that you might lead? Once in government, you get a first look at the books and when you sit down to deal with the myriad pieces of legislation that need to be updated, omnibus bills may suddenly become very attractive.

On the government side not much has changed either. Stephen Harper is still the Prime Minister. We have the same Aboriginal Affairs minister (at least until there is a shuffle sometime in the summer) and PMO still drives the agenda, sets policy and the “boys in short pants” continue to push ministers and ministerial staff around, even though they often know far less about an issue than the staff and ministers who deal with it on a daily basis.

The Conservative caucus will continue to sit on their hands when PMO brings forward another omnibus bill because too many are afraid of the repercussions of standing up to PMO, especially when there is a potential shuffle coming this summer.

In other words not much has changed. Far too many politicians make the mistake of letting their ego and a belief in their own press clippings stand in the way of common sense. It took 44 days for common sense to prevail. Now that her strike has been resolved, it remains debatable if Chief Spence accomplished very much. Time and history will be the final judge on that point.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

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  1. It is difficult to get around some ideas when they seem so distant to many people. Why live in squalor with deplorable conditions for example when modern living is available with government safety nets if needed? Why is 7 billion dollars not enough to provide help?

    Our ancestors lived without electricity, indoor plumbing, motorized transportation and grocery stores. Growing and raising your food, families were responsible to care for themselves and cutting wood for heat was a way of life.

    So many treaties must need updating, but are either side ready to do something about it? Like a few other subjects in this country, we need to do get talking.

  2. You actually made some sense of it all Keith.
    Thank you.

    My take is that the Indians will revere Theresa Spence as some kind of a hero in the long run as a saving face despite her follies.

    It saves them from having to admit she really did not accomplish a heck of a lot other than to upstage a few hundred other chiefs and piss off a lot more Canadians as a result of another example of how little they care about their own rank and file people, their own accountability which leads all of us to wonder what in the world they really spent so many millions on even to believe the ‘Contra’ or extremist Muslims were given some of it. Chiefs rule. Too hell with the peons. They have mother to look after them. The chiefs have our millions to look after them.

    No, in the end they will have a Pocahontas statue of Theresa somewhere visible in the anals of their history.

  3. “On the government side not much has changed, either.”

    There’s the nub of the issue, right there.

    The onus is, as it has been ever since he took over, on the white man as immigrant/intruder to seek creative change that respects the rights of the aboriginal peoples. Fat chance with Harper and his minions.

  4. How are these peoples cared for in the States?

    If through a large imagination, the “white man intruder never found their way to Canada, how would these groups have survived?

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