The Commons: What now for Chief Spence and Idle No More?

Aaron Wherry on the meeting of the PM and the AFN: This was not nothing, but what now?


Shortly after noon, with a group of women standing as human obstacles in front of the Langevin Block’s main doors, a crowd spilling out into the street, a man in a fur hat—Raymond Robinson, I believe, the Manitoba elder who has been on a hunger strike for the past month—stepped forward to shout his demands at the building, an imposing, Gothic Revival bunker across the street from Parliament Hill.

“Come on out, Harper!

“Come on Harper! Come on out!”

“Come on Harper, come outside! Be a man!

“Nation to nation! No more, no less!”

Around him, protesters drummed and sang in the cold and the rain. Two carved eagle heads were held aloft along with a dozen flags. A chant of “Idle! No More!” rose up from the crowd.

“I don’t want to fight, I just want to talk to you!”

The group that had moved forward toward the doors gathered around on the sidewalk to drum and sing together.

A short while later, the chiefs moved up the steps to knock on the two large brown doors at 80 Wellington. There was no answer. “We’re asking the Prime Minister to come out here,” said Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, “and explain why he won’t speak to the people.” After a few minutes, the chiefs retreated, explaining themselves to the cameras and reporters who had gathered around the scene as they went. And though the chiefs departed, protesters remained, a few of them pounding on the doors to Langevin, the massive brown doors rattling in their frames. Two women stood in front of the doors and sang. The flags flapped in the breeze. Human chains began to dance along the street around Langevin Block.

At the appointed hour there was no word. Nothing about whether the meeting was taking place inside. Nothing about who was attending if it was. But a few minutes after 1p.m., a delegation of Alberta chiefs came strolling down Sparks Street, the pedestrian mall made slippery from the weather, behind the Langevin Block and up Elgin Street to Langevin’s East entrance. After a check of credentials, they were ushered inside. A few minutes later, came a small delegation of unknown origin.

Confirmation of Shawn Atleo’s presence inside eventually came in the form of an email. By then the crowd had congregated on Parliament Hill, around the steps to Centre Block. A series of speakers took the microphone to tell their stories and state their cases before an audience of a few thousand. “Stay strong. We’re all in this together. We will not fall. We will not end this,” called a young woman with long brown hair. “We’re in this for the long haul with Chief Theresa Spence, with all of our chiefs and all of those involved in the Idle No More movement. We are in unity with the creator, with ceremony. Never forget where you are and who you come from. Never forget your roots and always honour yourself. You are important. We are important!”

After a couple more speakers, the crowd formed a massive a circle dance, one circle forming on the stone path, a larger human chain encircling the lawn.

The crowd on the Hill eventually marched back to Victoria Island. Save for two official photos and a tweet explaining that the Prime Minister had decided to attend the entirety of the day’s meetings, there was silence from Langevin. Inside was National Chief Shawn Atleo, his leadership of the Assembly of First Nations apparently in jeopardy, and representatives from eight provinces, but not Ontario or Manitoba.

The eight demands of the AFN are expansive: a new process for enforcing treaties, the settling of land claims, the reconsideration of two large omnibus budget bills, a new funding framework, a commission of inquiry into murdered and missing women, a First Nations school in every First Nations community and a “fundamental change in the machinery of government” to ensure that all of this is overseen with the proper care and authority. Meanwhile, a woman is still on a hunger strike. And there are threats now of new demonstrations and blockades.

Initially, a protest movement should only be measured by its ability to register some general sentiment of general dissatisfaction. On those grounds, Idle No More has succeeded. And of the past few weeks there was today. Seemingly as the result of a few weeks of protest and fasting, there was a working meeting with the Prime Minister and a ceremonial meeting with the Governor General. This was not nothing. (Indeed, that the Prime Minister moved so quickly to have these meeting was perhaps quite something.) But all of it—the last three weeks and today and whatever comes next—will of course only ultimately be measured by what happens next and what good (or bad) comes.

There would be no word from Mr. Harper at meeting’s end, nor anything from Mr. Atleo. Reporters stood around in the rain outside Langevin, hoping that someone might stop on the way out to say something. John Duncan, the Aboriginal Affairs Minister, was due to appear in a room in the basement of Centre Block at 5:45p.m. Some 45 minutes after that, he walked into the room.

He began with a review of the government’s actions and good deeds to date. He recalled last year’s gathering of the Crown and First Nations and the Prime Minister’s commitment to progress. “Today’s meeting marks another important step in that direction,” Mr. Duncan said.

The Prime Minister had a “good, frank” dialogue with all participants and the government was pleased with the “constructive” discussions that took place, but “there is still more work to be done.”

The Prime Minister, Mr. Duncan reported in his low voice, had agreed to a “high-level” dialogue on the treaty relationship and comprehensive claims and the Prime Minister agreed with need for “enhanced oversight” from the Prime Minister’s Office and Privy Council Office. And there would be another meeting with Mr. Atleo in the coming weeks to “review next steps.”

“Working together remains the best way,” Mr. Duncan said, attempting to enthuse on the b-word, “to achieve our shared objective of healthier, more prosperous and self-sufficient First Nations communities.”

After Mr. Duncan’s parliamentary secretary had offered the same assurances en francais, there were questions.

Was anything achieved today that will stop the protests?

“I think we achieved quite a bit today,” Mr. Duncan said, listing some of his high points. “I can’t really respond to the rest of your question because that’s something that the meeting was not designed to achieve.”

What about the possibility of blockades? What are you going to do about that?

“Well, we’ve said before that Canadians have every right to protest if they wish to do so,” he said, “as long as they do so in a lawful way. This is a matter that will be up to the authorities at that time.”

Are you prepared to do anything so that Theresa Spence will stop her hunger strike?

“I’ve been very concerned about this. I had a personal friend who went on a hunger strike years ago and it did great detriment to his health,” he said. “I’ve been very much wanting to have a conversation with Theresa Spence. I’ve offered multiple times. And I expressed concern again today. There was many people in the room that expressed concern.”

There were more questions and some discussion about how Mr. Duncan defines “high-level.” The minister indicated there was time for just one more question, but took a few more before finally leaving. The last was the same as the first, the simple question of a complicated moment: Will this stop the protests?

Mr. Duncan’s first words in response seemed perfectly unguarded.

“I have no idea what it’ll do.”


The Commons: What now for Chief Spence and Idle No More?

  1. Yeah…it was nothing.

    Very colorful, great drumming, lots of passion….but accomplishment? Meh

    They’ll hold ‘high level’ meetings??? Only thing higher than today is the GG joining in…what the FN asked for up front.

    Harp could have gone down in history…..but he blew it again.

    No legacy, that’s for sure.

    Chief Spence though….she’ll be remembered.

    • Remembered as a fraud.

      • Don’t let the door hitcha….

      • Why is it that the Grand Chief from Quebec can understand and clearly articulate that since Canada repatriated the constitution, the GG surrendered all powers to the PM and parliament, but Emily, Chief Spence and several others cannot grasp this simple reality? It is most irritating. As Chief Coon Come pointed out, why does the GG need to be there, he cannot make any deals? Yet this woman, Ms. Spence, would starve herself because he won’t be in the meetings and Emily would agree she has is right to do so.

        • Because it’s not true…..which you would know if you ever read the thing.

          • look at my avatar do you see who im with,that is cumberland house cree nation in sask gonna call me a racist now

          • No, you’re a garden-variety idiot. Drunk too by the sound of it.

          • i havent had drink in over 20 yrs bad things happen when i drink people get hurt and im not into doing a life sentence so no drinkin

          • Then think before you speak, because you’re not making a lot of sense.

          • what part didnt you understand should i type slower for you,get drunk,get in a fight some one gets stabbed and i go to jail.not into it.it was a wakeup for me to QUIT DRINKING get it now


          • like i said. brick

          • Now you are against people who smoke weed and go on the internet. Jeez you don’t want anyone to have any fun.

          • AHAHAHAHAHA

          • Emily, do have something against drunk people? It seems to me you were much more understanding of Romeo Sagenash and he caused all kinds of problems drunk on a plane. Being drunk on the internet isn’t really that dangerous.

          • I don’t have to talk to drunks….he makes even less sense than you, and that’s difficult. LOL

          • Now MacFarlane, a political science professor from Waterloo is wrong too?
            Get into your head…the Queen is never going to over-ride the decisions of the Canadian parliament or the PM of Canada.

          • Asst profs are a dime a dozen….and exactly what they’re worth. Your problem is you’ll believe any white man with a title. Probably curtsey too.

            No one said anything about the Queen overriding the Canadian Parliament. You make up fantasies as you go along.

          • You’re not going far in the “knowledge” economy if you’ve taken to “HATING” Assistant Professors.

            “Well Mr. Elmo, here’s another F for your brilliant work on FN Indian Treaties.”

          • Again with the “white man” business. You said race didn’t matter. You said we all share the same DNA but every time a expert gives an opinion you don`t agree with, you play the race card.

          • I’m not playing cards, I’m talking to people who think race matters.

          • You seem more than most posters to be obsessed over race.

          • Or…..you could just read my previous post again.

          • There is no right or wrong here; all of the aboriginal people are not the same any more than all white people are the same. We all have different viewpoints, differing levels of education and intelligence, different life experiences, and come from different regions (or different countries). Why on earth you would think MacFarlane, Coyne, or any of them know any more about what the Aboriginals want is beyone me. They may know the ins and outs of parliamentary process and governance, but this is just as new to them as to anyone else.

          • No one said anything about knowing what the FN “want”. I believe what we were discussing was whether or not it is realistic to believe that the Queen or her representative, the GG will EVER intervene in the negotiations between Parliament in Canada and FN. For those who believe that she will, I would like to know what precedent they are looking at because in her sixty years on the throne, it has NEVER happened. She does not even interfere in matters in the country she lives in. Now once you accept that she will likely NEVER intervene, why cancel meetings because her representative isn’t there? Even Bob Rae in suggesting the GG attend speaks like FN chiefs are a bunch of children that need placating with a symbolic figurehead instead of a dose of reality that the GG can’t negotiate with them.

          • But would the NDP or LPC members come and knock at the doors of the European Parliament when the Harper government wants to negotiate a deal on behalf of the people? Of course not. Canada, when in negotiations, speaks as one voice, whether we like such voice or not. When any group is in negotiations, fractions of the same group do not knock on the door while standing outside demanding other wise. You and I may understand this but not everyone does, apparently. Next time the PM want to negotiate something (outside of parliament) let us see if Mulcair or Rae will stand there, somewhere, knocking at the door to be calling them all outside. Ridiculous notion.

        • bud this one has a brick for a head your wasting your time

          • Yes I know but does she have to keep spewing the contents of her brain on this site?????

          • I kind of wonder if she is a Maclean’s staff member, incognito, who takes absurd contrarian positions just to drive up the comments on the board.

        • Chief Spence and others that wanted the GG to attend the meeting never expected him to make decisions or speak for the rest of Canada. They as are smart as you are regarding our constitution. They simply wanted him to be present for two reasons. First they know Harper and his ministers can’t be trusted so they wanted an honorable official there to make sure he keeps his word. Second Harper has consistently acted as if everything has to be done on his terms and his alone and that the First Nations have no right to respectful treatment. They want to show Harper that they have as much right to respect as he does.

          It seems like they have him talking on their terms now.

          • Interesting interpretation. However, Mr. McFarlane wrote a very interesting and compelling argument as to why the GG should NOT be at a working meeting between FN and the government. Having the GG in attendance was not the only sticking point for some of the chiefs….they wanted Harper to come to their turf at the Delta Hotel as well as bring along the GG. If he didn’t agree to BOTH concessions, they would meet with him.

            In an interview with the CBC today, the Grand Chief from Manitoba said he was supporting Chief Spence when he boycotted the meeting. Frankly, I think there was a rift between the factions in the AFN. The group supporting Atleo wanted to meet with the PM because as they pointed out, they didn’t come to Ottawa to protest. They wanted a meeting and they weren’t going to miss it over a “peeing contest”. Now tonite, Chief Spence met with the GG and she left his residence feeling “disrespected”. So, apparently your belief that he is an “honorable gentleman” isn’t one she shares. There will be no solid food in her immediate future.

          • Canada’s political scene more fractious and divided than at any time in its history. The House of Commons is mean spirited and divided. The government is frequently described as controlling, bullying, disrespectful of democracy and abusive to independent officers of Parliament. The government clearly has no mandate from 60% to 56% of the electorate. There has been no meetings between the Prime Minister and the Premiers as a group since Harper came to government. None of the political parties can realistically claim to have representation mandates in all regions.

            So given the divisions across Canada, why is it that people expect the First Nations to have complete solidarity and consider it a sign of confusion or weakness when their representatives agree on the correct strategy to solve their very serious problems. They come from the same regions as the rest of us and are bound to have varying political beliefs and pressures from their constituencies. Some are rural while others are urban. Some have treaties in place, many don’t. Their differences are NOT peeing contests, but serious debate about serious issues.

            I don’t think Theresa Spence considers David Johnston anything other than honorable, but she obviously does see that Stephen Harper could use him in ways that aren’t honorable.

          • I was talking about the argument over the venue for the meeting being a “peeing contest”. I am not sure how it could be seen as anything else.

        • Some Indians have taken their own initiative to educate themselves, sadly the majority of them are just too damn lazy to do much of anything except whine and complain that it’s everyone’s fault, but their own, no personal responsibility.

    • are you freakin nuts the chiefs blew that big time with their grandstanding.we are not as blind as you want us to be.harper did every thing you people wanted, but YOUR chiefs kept throwing out demands and harper met every one of them and what do your chiefs do?throw a temper tantrum like a bunch of spoiled brats and say we’re not going do you honestly think that we dont see that. IF you want the ROC to get behind you stop the bullsh*t and threats because you are losing support faster than you think and its not racism its being fed up with FN disrupting everyone else, and for that matter let reporters into attawapiskat lets hear what those people think of spence and the people from nepanak’s rez where he ripped off his own people with the Gov money for flood damage

      • This comment was deleted.

        • nepanak being investigated right now for misappropriated funds look it up at CBC we know whats going on we see the news to,spin it any way you want but facts are facts

          • Who’s ‘nepanak’?

          • chief in winnepeg

          • Looks like the “knowledge” economy is getting away from you there, Chief.

          • The Grand Chief for Manitoba…the one who threatened to bring Canada to its knees….he was the one who is supporting Ms. Spence. He was on the cbc talking about drumming and love….etc.
            He was also talking about natural resource equity.

          • Well the Ontario chiefs want to cut off transport.

          • Well I’m going to get a laugh out of seeing them running like hell down the 400 highway in their War Bonnetts and feather underwear and a big chromed out Peterbilt loaded with logs roaring up behind them

          • Oh, dear. I shouldn’t be laughing at that, but I can’t help it.

          • May I please tell you I know exactly how you feel.

          • Go look it up. Do you need a wet nurse for everything?

          • One of the three stooges Manitoba chiefs along with Chief Curly and Chief Moe

          • Oh man….all that drumming and love he was talking about…..wow!

        • Well Emily, now that Ms. Spence felt “disrespected” at the GG’s party, do you think she will still want to meet with him and the PM?

          • CHIEF Spence.

          • Do you think THAT is why she felt disrespected? You don’t call the PM by his title, so I don’t really feel the need to call Ms. Spence by hers.

          • Oh gawd….that will bring the FN to their knees….you can’t even remember her name. LOL

          • AHAHAHAHAHA LOL thmp thmp thmp

          • You’re well out of date Elmo. That’s a way too pedestrian for this fine woman. Her Order of Canada potential requires something more poetic.

            So we’ve got her in the Style Book as, Chief No FN Invoices.

      • Go onto the cbc website and you will see what at least one person on Attawawapiskat thought of Chief Spence. There is a video of an interview done there in March. Not very flattering of the chief.

        • yup saw that, not good and that was only 1 guy wonder what the rest think

          • They have supported her from the beginning…they elected her after all.

          • Yeah and look who you supported, and elected.

            A morals bereft wack job who ran his election campaign out of a massage parlour. (er excuse me, “the neighbourhood clinic”)

          • Why do you think she won’t let anybody else on “her” reservation? The crazy thing is that her “husband” has been holed up a hotel in Ottawa this whole time while she has been hanging out in the teepee. People have donated over $30K to her liquid diet and she has spent $20K of it on expenses for her stay in Ottawa and still people like Emily praise her.

          • This comment was deleted.

          • If that’s the case Elmo, about “the injuns coming” you better get yourself a tin-foil Covered Wagon and a couple of quarts of Red-Eye.

          • Making racist charges with a racist comment to back it up….typical Emily.

          • Yup, I’m making fun of you

          • Oh sorry, I missed it. I’ll try to pay closer attention next time.

          • I truly believe your fury is directed in the wrong direction. And while you are usually a seemingly intelligent and decent person, albeit conservative, your anger and zeal in putting Spence down seem really out of character. Why is he her “husband” and not just her husband? Do you judge a difference between a civil or church marriage and a common law one? The law doesn’t (and it’s 2013). And if this crusade of Spence’s has only cost $20,000 of fund-raised money, frankly the harper government should turn to her for some efficiences because I bet it cost more just the past few days for pmo to react and respond to Spence et al.

          • I really couldn’t care about the audit results so much. However, when I saw that interview with Adrienne Arsenault of the cbc and saw Ms. Spence’s incompetence firsthand, it really disgusted me. Her people in that community are suffering and she is a big part of the problem as at least one of the members of her community said in the interview. Maybe if you go onto the cbc site and watch the interview you will see why I have no sympathy for her or her life partner. It has nothing to do with my opinions on marriage…it is none of my business. The fact that he was hired to co-manage the community with the Chief and act as the book keeper, while make $850.00 per day pretty much reeks of a conflict of interest. However, if he had done a good job, that would have been one thing but to only keep 30% of the receipts; to waste money on a zamboni when 6 new houses sat empty waiting for inside complete for TWO years while people froze in tents; to not bother to unpack heaters and blankets and warm clothing for those who are suffering….
            It is really easy to point the finger at the government and never look at the role the chiefs have played in the suffering of the FN people. I am sure Harper wastes lots of money. I wouldn’t even bother to defend ANY government. I work for one and I know what the waste is. However, Ms. Spence is the one who has drawn attention to herself and her claims of being a victim of under funding. She has thus far refused to accept any responsibility for any of the conditions in her community.

          • Theresa Spence has watched Stephen Harper and appears to be using his tactic of keeping the media at arms length and refusing to answer questions. Maybe she even has the questions screened ahead of time so as to avoid the embarrassing ones like he does. So far her expenses for communications and advertising pale in comparison to Harper’s. especially the hundreds of communications staff at the PMO. The financial mismanagement of her band pales in comparison to the F-35 deceit / bungle. Tony Clement’s gazebo spree to the tune of $50 million makes anything she did see like small stuff. Why is it that when Harper does these things it is good, but when Theresa Spence makes errors it is bad?

          • I am sorry if I ever gave you the impression that I thought financial mismanagement was a “good thing” for a government to do. I will tell you quite unequivocally that I do not think it is a good thing. I won’t be making excuses for any government, including Mr. Harper’s or Ms. Spence’s.
            I have worked for one government or another almost my whole working life and I have encountered more wastage than I can tell you about. However, when I try to tell people that, they insist all the problems are due to under funding. NO, quite often it is due to bad management. The truth of whether or not something was badly managed doesn’t change because the person “shares” your political view. Therefore, I would not give Mr. Harper a free ride on fiscal mismanagement and you shouldn’t be giving Ms. Spence or anyone in your political circle a free ride. Who ends up paying for these “free rides” are the vulnerable in society. We need to have higher of expectations of everyone, no matter their political leanings.

          • It’s not just bad management (though that plays a role), but rather a bad system.

            On many, if not most, ‘first nations’ (and including Attawapiskat) it is the chief and band council that allocate housing. So if you maintain your home carefully or maybe even improve it you risk having the chief’s nephew call upon the chief to kick you out and move him in because your house is nicer than his.

            That’s why we could see in the Attawapiskat video a huge flat screen TV on the wall of a house that had been trashed. Not just poorly maintained, but trashed.

            Because any investment in your home you could lose, whereas you get to keep the TV.

            As long as people have no incentive to maintain their homes, the homes will be wrecked faster than they can be built.

            THAT’s a problem that needs fixing, and no amount of extra unearned money flowing through the hands of the chiefs is going to help.

          • when i lived on the cumberland house rez i helped build a few houses before any drywall went on we first had to cover the walls with 5/8s pressure treated plywood from floor to cieling because the band was tired of repairing holes punched in the drywall

    • she’ll be remembered – AHAHAHAHAHA LOL thmp

      She thinks she’s Mussolini

  2. So Harper’s legacy in Alberta was supposed to center on tar sands rapid developments and export of bitumen outside North America to drive the economy. So far if his opponents had set out to create as much opposition to this plan as was possible, the strategy they would have selected would be exactly the one Harper chose to use. He has convinced a huge majority in BC to oppose Northern Gateway as well as a healthy majority elsewhere in the country There are now huge questions about Keystone. In addition BC is going NDP this year. Now he and his incompetent minister play games with Theresa Spence and the First Nations such that rapid tar sends development or ANY pipeline west or east will face huge opposition and delays.

    Harper will be very lucky if he can get himself elected in Calgary again.

    • Yes the sheer incompetence of Harper & Co is stunning…..his own worst enemy!

    • That would make me extremely happy.

      • I think you have hit on the main reason why you and some of the more extreme Harper-haters on this blog are supporting such a questionable character as Spence.

        It`s the old ” The enemy of my enemy is my friend ” —right ?

        You have such a desperation to make Harper look bad that you are willing to promote the violent, conflict-seeking wing of the Native community. Try to make a more objective judgement of a situation without prejudice.

      • Aren’t you from Saskatchewan which is presently enjoying an economic boom fueled by oil?

    • So you think the economy is a bad thing and shouldn’t be supported?

      I have to disagree. I like being employed, honestly earning my pay, and in another decade when I’m retired I’ll enjoy my meagre government pension into which I’ve been paying most of my life.

    • Yes I am sure all of Calgary will be voting NDP.

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