Political will and all of Canada needed to drive change
By Shari Narine - Windspeaker
The 13-point declaration that ended Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike on Jan. 24 is neither a way for her to save face nor an unrealistic set of goals.
“It’s an absolute victory,” said Danny Metatawabin, spokesperson for Spence.
Metatawabin helped draft the declaration, which he said was not prompted by pressure placed on Spence or Cross Lake First Nation Elder Raymond Robinson to end their hunger strikes. The declaration was signed by the Assembly of First Nations, federal New Democrats and Liberals, and the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
Metatawabin said Spence received full support across the country, including from the Attawapiskat First Nation, and brought international attention to the situation of First Nations people.
Spence was unable to attend the press conference that announced the end to her 44-day hunger strike as she had been admitted to hospital the previous night.
Robinson, who joined Spence at Victoria Island a day after she began fasting, told about his own experience at the hospital the night before. He said he was treated with such disrespect and condescension, he left without an examination.
“Where is my place in Canadian society? Why did I have to receive that kind of tone when I needed medical attention?” asked Robinson. The treatment he received underscored one of the reasons why he, Spence and Jean Sock undertook their hunger strikes.
“These are the things still plaguing us as First Nations people.”
Sock, from Elsipogtog First Nation, ended his hunger strike after 28 days, citing his mother’s ailing health as his reason
Robinson, who also agreed to the declaration, said he and Spence “quit on our own terms. We were happy with the result we made as a collective... Now we’re letting our leadership take over.”
Regional Chief Perry Bellegarde, who represented the Assembly of First Nations, said the declaration builds on the eight elements an AFN delegation presented to Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Jan. 11 meeting. Neither Bellegarde nor Spence attended.