Senator questions chief’s strategy
Brazeau urges Spence to reconsider demand to meet the prime minister
As Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence continues her hunger strike, at least one Conservative voice said she should “think twice” about what she’s doing.
Senator Patrick Brazeau, who tried unsuccessfully to meet with Spence at her teepee on Victoria Island on Christmas Eve, says Spence should be going through the “proper parliamentary processes” rather than demanding to sit down with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“The sad reality is that there are a lot of people who would like to meet with the prime minister but … there is a chain of command within our parliamentary process,” said Brazeau on Wednesday. “The minister involved in this particular issue has extended his invitation and has opened his door to meeting with Chief Spence, and I think that she should think twice and perhaps think hard about the opportunity that is being presented to her.”
Spence has said she won’t eat until Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston agree to a meeting with First Nations leaders to discuss the treaty relationship.
Spence, who considers herself the leader of a sovereign nation, says she deserves a meeting with the leader of Canada.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, who has repeatedly tried to get in touch with Spence, wrote her again on Wednesday.
“Given your willingness to accept meetings now I am hoping that you will reconsider my offer, as a Minister of the Crown, to meet or speak with you by phone to discuss the issues you have raised publicly,” he wrote.
Brazeau noted that “it seems that she doesn’t want to meet with government officials or government representatives, but certainly she’s open to meeting with NDP members and Liberal Party members.”
On Boxing Day, Spence met with Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau, who tweeted a few photos of the 45-minute encounter.
Canadian Saulteaux actor Adam Beach also spent time with Spence this week.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and another Liberal leadership hopeful, Marc Garneau, have both written to the prime minister urging him to meet with Spence.
Brazeau, who is Algonquin, said he doesn’t think the chief is setting a good example for aboriginal youth, “especially in Canada, living in a democratic society where there’s a lot of processes and procedures in place for all Canadians — of all creed, religion, race and colour — to have their voices heard.”
However, many are holding Spence up as a hero, and using the #idlenomore hashtag on Twitter to tweet @ ChiefTheresa with words of encouragement.
Indeed, one new song about Idle No More puts Spence and her strike front and centre in the campaign, which has been largely organized by “grassroots” First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, and spread through Twitter and Facebook.
One of Spence’s central concerns is what she sees as the government’s failure to consult First Nations on legislation that affects them.
“The word ‘consultation’ is such a broad word,” said Brazeau. “People will have their different definitions and interpretations of what exactly that means.”
Duncan’s office said Wednesday that consultation is central to their legislative plan.
The minister sent letters to both the Assembly of First Nations and individual chiefs explaining that “First Nations can make recommendations on the department website as to what they’d like to see in terms of a First Nations Education Act,” said spokesman Jan O’Driscoll.
“We will be doing regional consultations in the new year, and have committed to sharing the draft legislation with First Nations,” said O’Driscoll in an emailed statement.
O’Driscoll said there is a “misconception” that changes to on-reserve “land designation” contained in the Conservative omnibus budget bill will allow First Nation communities to “sell off ” their land.
“This is false,” he said. “These amendments are only about leasing and have nothing to do with surrendering reserve lands.”
He said, on the contrary, the changes allow First Nations “to economically benefit from their lands and to manage them according to their bylaws.”
Brazeau added that legislation requiring chiefs to disclose their salaries and expenses publicly is actually the result of work by “grassroots” members of First Nations.
“Certainly not everything is perfect,” said Brazeau, “but it’s not as if the government has been working alone in this and trying to impose any legislation down the throats of anyone concerned here.”
He placed some blame on “some First Nations leaders” who complain but don’t bring solutions.
“There are some First Nations leaders and people who, regardless of what any government tries to pass in terms of legislation, they’re always going to be against it.”
But, for Spence, that type of consultation is not enough.
She wants a face-to-face meeting with the prime minister to discuss the treaty relationship because she says the government is acting like it’s in charge but, according to Spence, it should be an equal relationship.
“I pray for the prime minister to open his heart, and come to the table, and for us all to start a new relationship,” said Spence on Christmas Day.
Until that happens, she says she will continue to refuse solid food, taking only some fish broth, lemon water and medicinal teas.