So here I thought moving back to Canada from Washington, DC, I would get a little break from politics. That isn’t happening and it’s thanks to an amazing citizens movement that is taking the country by storm.
The movement is called Idle No More, and it is right now centered around an amazingly strong-willed First Nations woman named Chief Theresa Spence who is now more than two weeks into a hunger strike. Spence will continue her hunger strike until Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with her to discuss her concerns over recent changes to laws concerning aboriginal rights and environmental protection.
Around Spence are tens-of-thousands of everyday people across the country who are standing up on this Christmas eve, supporting her efforts to oppose what is unarguably a very hard-right ideological turn for the government of Canada.
The government offered for Spence to meet with the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, which Spence rightly refused as she has every right as a First Nations leader to meet with the Prime Minister. And after all, if the government is willing to offer a meeting to Spence with a senior cabinet minister, there is little reason that the Prime Minister cannot meet with her instead.
For Idle No More and Theresa Spence, the new right-wing agenda being passed into law by Prime Minister Harper is seen as a systematic destruction of indigenous rights. There is a lot of changes in the works, for example Harper’s government wants to loosen the process for aboriginals to surrender their land or what little is left anyways.
This is an obvious threat to First Nation’s traditional ways of life, and likely a huge benefit to resource companies looking to exploit that land. This is a troubling proposal given the power and money that resource companies in Canada have, and their history of a willingness to destroy the Great White North for short term profit. One only needs to look at the vast sludgy, toxic lakes that are now a permanent fixture in the country’s tar sands projects.
For me, one of the most surprising and blatant attacks in Harper’s new agenda is $8 million in new funding to Revenue Canada to audit citizens groups and non-government organizations, with a special eye on environmental groups who oppose the development of Canada’s tar sands.
Audits can kill small NGO’s or at the least scare them into silence. This is an attempt to silence Canadian civil society and the people who have dedicated their lives to protecting Canada’s natural environment for future generations.
As you can see, things are not well in my homeland. While the government that represents me is shameful, I’m at the same time very proud to be Canadian today as I see so many people selflessly standing up and speaking out. But nobody more than Theresa Spence, a woman and a First Nations leader, who is showing the world right now what it is to truly care about the country you call home.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: For more, follow mzchief's dedicated liveblog.]
Photo by Remy Steinegger, World Economic Forum, under Creative Commons license.