Theresa Spence is the chief of the First Nations community, Attawapiskat. On December 12, 2012, Chief Theresa Spence commenced her hunger strike; taking place camped on an island in the Ottawa River near the Parliament. The ongoing hunger strike sought recognition from the Canadian government especially as Chief Spence was seeking to have a discussion with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the Aboriginal people’s concerns such as the issues regarding the Attawapiskat’s housing crisis of 2011. Canada is a country where residential schools continue to haunt the memories of the Aboriginal people to whom Prime Minister Harper had formally apologized but later claimed that Canada does not have a history of colonialism (MacDougall, 2012). The position of Aboriginal people today, primarily is the cause of settler colonialism. Suffering the effects of exploitation and discrimination, the Aboriginal people experience the greatest form of disempowerment especially as the genocidal residential schools still continue to have consequences today. The Idle No More protests reaffirm the notion that “each day that Indigenous rights are not honoured or fulfilled, inequality between Indigenous peoples and the settler society grows” (Idle No More, 2013).
The Idle No More movement sought to recognize six issues. These first three issues were: 1) the Bill C-45 included amendments to the Indian Act and the Navigable Waters Act, 2) deepening democracy in regards to proportional representation and consultation on collective rights, 3) respecting the right of Aboriginal people to say no to development on their territory. The last three issues were: 4) ending the policy of extinguishment as set out in section 35 of the constitution, 5) honouring the spirit of treaties and lastly 6) actively resisting violence against women and seeking further investigation into the missing women’s case (Idle No More, 2013). The hunger strike during the Idle No More movement was the crucial focus of the media. Idle No More is a mass movement amplifying the issue of oppression of Aboriginal people as ubiquitous, while addressing the institutional systems of colonial power preventing Aboriginal people to move forward. Chief Spence’s hunger strike comprised of a liquid diet, which she maintained for six weeks. The media perceived the hunger strike as an active voice for the Attawapiskat people, especially the children who were considered the future. The hunger strike, which gained momentum during the Idle No More mass movement, also developed widespread concerns about the health of the chief. The outbreak of the hunger strike news triggered others to begin solidarity fasts or hunger strikes. The hunger strike signifies a symbolic belief in the Aboriginal people’s culture, a hunger strike implies standing up for something that is very much alive and being able to experience resurgence in hopes of solidarity while the present and history was tainted with pain and obliviousness (MacDougall, 2012).
While many political leaders and members felt Chief Spence’s hunger strike was a ‘quest’ down the wrong path, the strike also stressed the importance of recognizing Aboriginal people’s rights and the need for Prime Minister Harper who for the most part, remained silent while the hunger strike was progressing, to meet with the Aboriginal people’s leaders to address the issues of inequality and discrimination faced by Aboriginals and to end the protests (CBC News, 2012). Chief Spence ended her six weeklong hunger strike on January 23, 2013 after Chief Spence and her confidantes created a declaration of concerns while still seeking for Prime Minister Harper to meet with them (CBC News, 2013).
CBC. (2012, December 18). Attawapiskat chief’s hunger strike part of wider movement. In CBC News. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/attawapiskat-chief-s-hunger-strike-part-of-wider-movement-1.1144409
CBC. (2013, January 23). Chief Theresa Spence to end hunger strike today. In CBC News. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/chief-theresa-spence-to-end-hunger-strike-today-1.1341571
Idle No More. (2013). Calls for Change. In Idle No More. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from http://www.idlenomore.ca/calls_for_change
MacDougall, G. (2012, December 22). Idle No More: On the meaning of Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike. In rabble.ca. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from http://rabble.ca/news/2012/12/idle-no-more-what-does-chief-spences-hunger-strike-mean