OTTAWA – Aboriginal protests against recent federal legislation are gaining momentum, with at least one prominent chief vowing to die for her people.
Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat started a hunger strike this morning, hoping to persuade the prime minister and the Queen to build a better relationship with aboriginal leaders.
Spence’s northern Ontario community was at the centre of an international media storm last year because of a winter housing crisis.
Thousands of protesters in cities across the country took to the streets Monday in what has been dubbed the Idle No More movement against what they say are unilateral actions by the Harper government.
They are angry over a number of bills before Parliament, including one that would force First Nations to disclose their financial statements and the salaries of chiefs and councillors.
They are particularly upset with Bill C-45, the government’s omnibus budget legislation, which they say weakens environmental laws.
For Spence, the pain of watching her people suffer through a lack of housing and inadequate water supplies was the tipping point.
“The treaty’s been violated (for) so many years and it’s time for the prime minister to honour it and respect our leaders,” said Spence, who is staying in a cabin on an island in the Ottawa River while she goes without food.
“I am willing to die for my people because the pain is too much and it’s time for the government to realize what it’s doing to us,” she said.
“I am not afraid to die. If that’s the journey for me to go, then I will go.”
One post on social media websites set up by the Idle No More organizers accuses Prime Minister Stephen Harper of abandoning aboriginal people.
“A few Canadians get E.coli sickness and Harper shuts down XL Foods,” reads the post, referring to the recent closure of an Alberta meat processing plant over a contamination scare.
“But Cree are dying in (Fort Chipewyan, Alta.) from toxins in their water, yet Harper keeps the tar sands open.”
The government says it holds thousands of consultations with aboriginal leaders every year and that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan has visited dozens of reserves over the last two years.