Saturday, January 19, 2013

I Spoke Too Soon: Why I No Longer Support Theresa Spence

Time does change things, does it not? Since I wrote my last blog post about the plight of Theresa Spence, much has happened, and my opinions have changed dramatically. I no longer feel supportive of hunger striking Chief Theresa Spence as I once had. There are a good number of reasons which I will attempt to lay out.

Although there may have been political motives to the recent releasing a very damning audit report on how money on the Attawapiskat reserve that she is Chief of has been handled, it was still damning. Now, there is a fair amount of issues in the report that predates Spence's time as leader. However, there are still poorly managed funds that most certainly helped in making the housing crisis on her reserve, that she went very public about, considerably worse. In other words, her own people ended up suffering more than they needed to due to financial mismanagement.

It is frustrating to see someone who would go public about what is a serious issue, not take responsibility for at least a portion of the blame, which I believe she has completely avoided. As opposed to saying, "Yes, I screwed up, and I accept the mistakes I made," she has become more defiant, and still has not properly addressed the matter. She did come out of her hiding place in Ottawa just long enough on the morning of the meeting to speak to reporters (accepting no questions) and touched the subject saying that the PM and the media are all lying, and that the money went to taxes and lawyers. Well, yes, but this should be shown on receipts, right? One of the big issues with the audit is the lack of documentation. Just get the frickin' receipts  It would save so much heartache and hassle for everyone involved. And, I must point out that I was disgusted with her hostility and the hostility of her "handlers" who came across as complete assholes at that brief press conference.

There is much criticism from her and supporters that the government has failed her and her reserve. Not being accountable for her expenditures has failed her reserve as well. That means they have been failed on two fronts and she is no better than the Federal Government. So it is no longer Spence vs the Federal Government but Spence and the Federal Government against the people. But she has her diehard supporters who continue to dismiss any and all criticism towards her. Why? I don't get it. Even if I support someone I can admit that there is room for criticism. 

The final straw was when Spence ordered that a Global News reporter who had gone to the reserve to see how the situation may have changed since her very public declaration of a state of emergency at Attawapiskat over housing conditions. As far as I am concerned, this was completely unacceptable and has greatly reduced my trust of her. 

What has bothered me just as much is that so many of her (Spenceites?) supporters applaud her actions. I'm sorry, but after living in the Middle East where media is tightly controlled and freedom of the press is almost non-existent, I have little sympathy for similar actions happening in Canada, whether it be by her OR Stephen Harper. I don't see much difference in her actions or the actions of a dictator who threatens to jail reporters. Would Global do a report that Spence wouldn't like? Possibly! We will never know now.I would like to know what has changed on the reserve. At the same time, I don’t watch Global so in the end I still might have been clued out. 

At the start of her strike there was much anger that her plight wasn't getting enough media attention. It's safe to say that now there is near media saturation. The reality is, when one makes a public splash they are putting themselves out on a limb. There will be support and there will be detractors. Just as much as she deserves her side of the story to be told, she needs to accept criticism and other views as well. There is no reason she should go forth without there being some criticism and analysis. That's what media does. Her actions in trying to control the media and the narrative of the story are unacceptable. Trying to create an atmosphere of fear where reporters can't fully report without getting arrested is unacceptable, childish, counter-productive and hostile. She must be willing to accept that there will be press coverage that she may deem to be negative. If you can't deal with it in an effective matter you shouldn't thrust yourself into the spotlight.

Now, I don't like Stephen Harper. I dislike where he is taking Canada. I do not support many of his policies or how he actually governs. I am disappointed that he won a majority in the last election and how he has seemingly run roughshod over Canada since winning. I wish we could get rid of him. Unfortunately, the Spence story seems to have become a "You are either with Spence or with Harper" issue. Can't we disagree with both or not trust either of them? I believe removing environmental protections (a big catalyst for the beginning of the Idle No More movement which Spence has been associated with) within a giant omnibus budget bill was pretty low. And this came from someone who, until he became PM, was a strong critic of omnibus bills. So, no, I don't trust Harper, for this and many other reasons. But, obviously, as stated, I am having difficulty trusting Spence as well. 

Now, on to Idle No More. Here is what I support: CHANGE! We need it desperately in Canada. The issues when it comes to First Nations has been going on far too long. Too many FN folks are living in poverty, are dogged by addiction, violence and abuse. There have been many horrible injustices done! The boarding school crisis, for example...and that's just one tiny example. There are serious issues that need to be overcome and addressed!

As far as I am concerned, the Indian Act has to go, the Treaties which many are demanding to be respected inherently create inequality and lack of empowerment and have to be ripped up, and there must be self-government or at least far more control handed over the First Nations people over their own affairs. These need addressing! Instead, the day that Aboriginal leaders were to meet with Stephen Harper for the meeting that has been pushed for, and was a key demand of Spence's, there was infighting and up to almost the end it seemed that no one would actually be going! Why? The Governor General, who has absolutely no power in this case, wasn't going to be there. Now, all powers over Native Affairs have been handed over to the Federal Government. The Governor General, the (mostly ceremonial at this point in time) representative of the Queen's presence would be problematic for a number of reasons, such as the Queen not wanting to get involved in the affairs of a sovereign nation! So, his NOT attending is best for everyone involved. The British Empire as we once knew it is dead.

Fortunately, Shawn Atleo, the head of the Assembly of First Nations, did go to the meeting, and for that I am so glad. To me, HE is the center now. He is someone I believe can work with the Federal Government to make the changes that are absolutely needed. He is an intelligent, well-spoken, sensible man who impressed me yesterday like you wouldn't believe. Unfortunately, so many of his own people have turned on him! WHY!???!???!?? Is there something I am missing? Time will tell if he will be able to deliver, but at the moment, I like what he has done.

Unless Idle No More can back sensible people like Shawn Atleo, then my support for the movement will die. My support, my hope, my faith is with Atleo at this moment. He is the man who, by attending yesterday's meeting, showed that he does want to get things done. Good! That's what we ALL need as Canadians. You can't say you won't be idle anymore and then stay idle. I don't want to see Idle No More go the way of Occupy. This is an important movement. We need real change that will improve the lives of natives in this country, and to create a better, fairer relationship that includes more trust, respect and understanding. 

So, my support of Theresa Spence has shifted over to Atleo. Unfortunately, I see Spence working against the best interests of her people, and her decision not to go to a meeting she is starving for as undermining the whole movement. Atleo was brave. In the face of the anger of his own people, he made the right decision to meet with the Prime Minister! Good for him! Some of the best leaders take action not because it's popular, but because they know it is the right thing to do. I believe and I hope this is Atleo's do the right thing. I think he has started off doing the right thing. 

Now, what will tomorrow bring? This seems to be an ever changing story. Who knows. 

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