Bury my heart on bended knee
For lo these many days I’ve been following the hunger strike of Theresa Spence. I worried about her, just getting by on fish broth, until I saw her interviewed on television recently. I thought, Whoa Nelly, she looks pretty hearty for somebody who has been starving herself to death for almost a month.
Then I learned that she was also the Attawapiskat First Nation Chief. Isn’t that the same place that, according to an audit by Deloitte and Touche, managed to take $104 million from the federal government over six years and have nothing much to show for it and no explanation for where a lot of it went? Sounds like what my university English Lit. prof would call “seeming and being” where how things appear are different from what they really are.
But before you dismiss me as just another redneck, let me declare myself. I’m on the side of the First Peoples of Canada and have been ever since I was six, travelling by car with my parents near Lake Couchiching. We took a wrong turn and somehow ended up on the Rama Reserve. Even at that young age I knew such squalor as I was seeing should not exist in a country with Canada’s bounty.
In my own small way, I’ve tried to do something. I helped raise money for the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto on Spadina Road. It was a tough campaign. Many people we approached were racist in their response. One business person captured the prevalent mood when he said, “Why would I give money to a bunch of people who are just going to piss it away in Nathan Phillips Square?”
But we pressed on and attained our goal. I was given an Ojibway name that means “He who strings words together.” As a business journalist, I also wrote articles and once did a TV documentary on native entrepreneurs who were succeeding against all odds. Did any of what I did make a difference? Of course not. I just have never been able to erase that searing boyhood memory from my mind.
All of which brings me back to Theresa Spence and her plea for help. Such demands are no longer about the money or the principle. There’s been plenty of public money sent over the years to Attawapiskat and many other places like it without any noticeable change. This is all about leadership. Chief Spence, give up your hunger strike and go home. There should be enough money in the kitty to build each family a wonderful residence, hire good teachers, and supply fresh water for the community. If you don’t, I’m going on a hunger strike. It looks like a healthy way to begin the New Year.