I go back and forth on Idle No More - Macleans.ca

I go back and forth on Idle No More

Scott Feschuk on Chief Theresa Spence and living on fish broth


Photo illustration by Taylor Shute

According to its founders, Idle No More “calls on all people to join in a revolution which honours and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty.” That doesn’t sound like a very fun revolution. The best revolutions are, like, “Hey, let’s kill the king!” or “Hang on, we preferred the original Coke!” Honouring and fulfilling stuff doesn’t usually cut it.

But the movement has taken off. We’re at the point now where it’s like Occupy, but with fewer hacky sacks and douchebags. And it’s splitting opinion pretty sharply. For many, your perspective on Idle No More may come down to how you feel about the hunger strike of Chief Theresa Spence. Many find inspiration in her commitment. Others feel Spence is cheating because she’s consuming tea, lemon water and fish broth. Fish broth is food! they say. Kind of but not really! comes the reply. Although, if we’re debating the calorie count of fish water, we have perhaps strayed some distance from the larger point.

There is one thing for certain: I would be the world’s worst hunger striker. I’d have the fish broth. I’d have the lemon water. I’d have the lemon and the lemon peel. I’d have the pizza—but just one or two slices because, you know, hunger strike. Worse still, if my hunger strike actually got me a meeting with the Prime Minister, as Spence’s did, I wouldn’t be able to say anything because for three hours my mouth would be full of muffin.

These days, what with the Internet and the tweeting and whatnot, everyone feels strongly about things. Confidence is the currency of the times. And so we get: Idle No More is dumb and the people who think it’s awesome are stupid. Or we get: Idle No More is awesome and the people who think it’s stupid are dumb. Can’t we just all agree that Idle No More has given us the opportunity to focus on an important national issue, assess the pertinent facts of the matter and reflexively accuse each other of being racists?

Personally, I go back and forth on the merits of Idle No More. Please join me for a walk along my path of indecision.

Pro: Having witnessed first-hand the living conditions in Aboriginal communities, and having had my capacity for empathy somehow survive following Donald Trump on Twitter, I recognize the need for genuine change and meaningful action.

Con: A hunger strike is the most childish of all negotiating ploys. If you don’t give me what I want, I am GOING TO DIE!!! It’s basically the grown-up equivalent of dropping to the floor in Toys R Us and wailing until Mommy says, “Fine, one Power Ranger.”

Pro: It’s hard not to be moved by someone so devoted to a cause she is willing to subsist for a month on fish juice. I’m not sure there’s an injustice in this world that would motivate me even to order the salad instead of fries.

Con: I can’t support any movement that forces me to spend even 10 extra minutes on a train. Aboriginals of Canada: I sympathize with your plight, but please do not form any more barricades on train tracks. Many of us can barely tolerate long red lights. DON’T PUSH US.

Pro: Ezra Levant has been pretty outspoken in attacking Chief Spence and no one wants to be on the same side of an issue as that guy.

Con: When the “scathing” audit of her band’s finances was released this week, Spence called it a ploy to “discredit” her. It sure was, and it worked. In reading the audit, the only surprise is that the reserve didn’t wind up with a monorail. It put North Haverbrook on the map!

It’s a divisive issue, but let’s at least agree on this: the biggest surprise so far is that Stephen Harper caved and agreed to meet with a delegation that includes Chief Spence. I had Harper pegged as the kind of guy who’d ignore a hunger striker. Or perhaps have delivered to her a plate of nice, crisp bacon.

But it turns out the PM is a softie! And now we know his weakness. Let’s all get in line to starve our way to a meeting on the issues that matter most to us. It’ll be worth a few weeks of suffering to make my case for why we need a fifth season of Starsky & Hutch.

Follow Scott Feschuk on Twitter @scottfeschuk


I go back and forth on Idle No More

  1. This comment was deleted.

    • Wow! What freaking century is it?

    • ^ LOL whats the point of that comment? Who are “they” and what are you insinuating with “real jobs”? Educate yourself.

    • You make light Dolores, but this is a serious issue. First Nations applicants drumming during job interviews is a real problem in this country. If only they would put them down. It’s tragic.

  2. That one wasn’t really funny Scott…although i can see why you pulled some punches right now.[cept for the one on Ezra. You couldn’t dent that guy’s noggin with a pile driver]

    Nice summation of the big picture…Harper unexpectedly caved – that’s good, and the focus should be maybe this is an opportunity to improve someone’s life on reserve?[ this feels icky posting this stuff here for some reason] Don’t think you are giving Spence enough credit – tarnished or not ; people don’t resort to hunger strikes unless they are desperate, or as a way to deflect all of Canada’s media attention away from your own incompetence …the more i read that sentence the goofier the naysayers appear – to me anyway. If i was as guilty as they say Spence is i’d have my bags packed for club med, not a teepee in Ottawa. But you and i will never be that desperate…unless all the world’s pizza suddenly morphs into tofu overnight.[Shouldn’t say that even in jest. i’m going out to check right now.]

    • If i was as guilty as they say Spence is I’d have my bags packed for club med, not a teepee in Ottawa.

      Perhaps, but keep in mind that those people accusing Spence of being guilty are also accusing her of being incompetent and ill-prepared for the responsibilities she’s been entrusted with.

      Which isn’t to say that she’s guilty of anything, but the whole “a guilty person wouldn’t act in a way that brings so much attention to their guilt” doesn’t really apply as a counter argument if the accusation is not only that Spence is corrupt, but also that she’s incredibly ham-fisted in her corruption. I’ve certainly heard people argue along the lines of “all of this seemingly rampant corruption might not be so infuriating if it wasn’t so obvious, transparent, and poorly executed”.

      • I cannot understand how people can ignore what was shown in the CBC interview with Adrienne Arsenault. Spence announced a housing crisis and demanded money yet she had let 6 new houses sit empty for two years and bought a Zamboni for $100K instead of completing inside work on them. All that time people lived in tents in the freezing cold. She didn’t seem concerned that a news crew or government inspectorss might “notice”. So now saying “a guilty person wouldn’t act that way”….What????? How can people say how she would act.

        • Those who continue to make excuses for the actions or inactions of Spence, including the CBC until they were reminded about their own documentary, will bear responsibility for the continued lack of leadership in Native communities.

        • To be fair, both arguments about the Zamboni I’ve heard suggest that the money used on the Zamboni couldn’t have been used for the housing in any case.

          I don’t know which story is true, but supporters of Spence claim that the Zamboni money was raised by the community specifically for a Zamboni, so if that’s the case it wouldn’t be right to re-direct it from the Zamboni purchase. Opponents of Spence claim that the Zamboni money came from government education funding, so it WASN’T right to re-direct it TO the Zamboni purchase. Both groups seem to agree on one point though, that being that the Zamboni money wasn’t meant for housing, therefore not diverting it to housing wasn’t “wrong”.

      • Basically you’re saying she isn’t too bright…which i concede is a possibility.

        • Ouch; I asked you yesterday if you knew her level of education — I read somewhere today that it’s about grade 7 or 8. So maybe “bright” isn’t the term — uneducated, over her head (yet maybe still the best availabe?). She is compassionate and she is trying, and likely the best and only way she feels may work — nothing else has worked.

  3. Atleast she has the courage to stan up for what she believes in, her faith and love for the people make’s her strong. All around the world is corrupted by money.

    • Um, the whole protest is about her demanding more money…. you don’t see any irony in that?

      • If the whole protest is about nothing but money, then what was that impressive segment on the National last night? Missed it? It was about the effect of Bill C-38 on the salmon of the Fraser River – and the well informed INM leaders who opposed it. Harper consulted with **no one** on that bill or the subsequent Bill -C45, and not one single Conservative MP had the guts to register a single reservation or honour a single Opposition amendment. So that is what is all about money – money for Enbridge, the tar sands and oil people in general through trashing the environment.

        It’s not all about money for FN – you are just saying that to promote the false impression that Canada’s FN are always all about money. And it is not true.

        • It’s about money. The FN are being funded by big environmental groups in the US. The Moore Foundation is pumping money into Canada to demonize farmed salmon and their effects on the Fraser River salmon in order to boost the sale of Alaskan salmon.

          • I’ve never heard that before; please provide a link or source.

          • Thanks, wallhousewart. I had not read that. Did you know Vivian Krause, the oped writer, is the Vancouver woman who works in public relations for the farmed salmon industry, so her views come with a little money and influence? I don’t know this story well, but when someone is paid to do PR, they may be somewhat biased.

        • And what effect, exactly, did Bill C-38 have on the Salmon in the Fraser River? Oh, none that can be measured yet? Just more scaremongering by “environmentalists” (more professional protesters)?

          We have all this talk about “wanting to protect the environment”, but it’s 95% BS. It’s special interest groups that want “to be heard” so that they can continue to pretend they actually do something for the environment.

          And yes, it does come down to money for FNs. They’re all against Enbridge and any resource development, until they get a cut. Then they’re fine with it. But most of the time they can’t provide a rational reason for why they should get a cut.

          The idea that FNs are somehow the last line of defence between “corporate Canada” destroying the environment is a complete joke. Lots of FNs have no respect for the environment. There are reserves covered in litter and garbage, they use their hunting and fishing exemptions to over-fish and over-hunt. It’s just another one of the myths and/or lies regarding FNs.

    • If she gave two cents about her people they wouldn’t have been living in tents in the middle of winter while she and her boyfriend where wallowing away at public trough. She should be absolutely ashamed at how she’s failed her band. Look at the Osoyoos Indian Band in BC for an example of a chief that works for his or her people rather then for themselves and media attention.

  4. It’s a divisive issue, but let’s at least agree on this: the biggest surprise so far is that Stephen Harper caved.

    The smallest surprise is that the people Harper caved in to immediately started looking for an excuse to get out of the meeting they’d finally gotten him to agree to, as soon as he agreed to it.

    • native demands change every hour…all this..just meant to belittle Harper but don’t think it’s working…chiefs and spence just end up looking like threatening blackmailers…enough

    • That’s because it was never about Indian issues. It was another “get Harper” ploy by the NDP using radical elements in the aboriginal community. The minute good old Brigitte DePape showed up, I knew where the fire was coming from. Unfortunately by trying to start a movement against Harper, they’ve caused a split in their own community. Now Harper has called their bluff by agreeing to a meeting.

  5. Occupy-The Sequel with the same results none

  6. I never think it’s very funny when people try to get a laugh by being politically incorrect about things that actually matter. There are plenty of ways that being politically incorrect shows really good taste – but there are infinitely more ways to look really stupid – and this article does that extremely well.

  7. The audit proved both Attawapiskatt and the federal government were negligant in keeping their books. It did not find Attawapaskatt quilty of corruption. Attawapaskatt response was to ask for a forensic audit of the bands finances going back years. I have noticed so often that journalists lack depth on First Nations issues. There are many Atawapaskatts through out the north. Education and health are the biggest expenditures followed by infrastructure. The average salary for a chief in Canada is 36,000 a year. The bands are also underfunded. First Nations funding for education on reserve is over twenty percent less than their provincial counterparts. Teachers are paid less than teachers working off reserve. Child welfare on reserves also receives less than twenty percent of their provincial counterparts. Where corruption does exist it is usually the First Nations people who first raise the issue and seek justice.These incidents are not common. Far from it reserves are closely monitored and the bands expenditures are available to anyone who requests them from Aboriginal Affairs. Increasing numbers of reserves are also posting their finances online. I find some of the comments disturbing. If the word First Nation was replaced with Blacks or Jews there would be an immeadiate uproar. These comments are also more fitting for early Alabama civil rights opposition. The tone too of this article is flippant. I suggest the author as most journalists should first do some in depth research. They would find the despair among First Nations is far more serious than this badly written commentary would suggest.

    • Not that I’m defending Spence, but people don’t realize Deloitte & Touche as auditors are examining the process, not whether the band made bad financial decisions. Yes, red flags all over the place with the lack of documents but it doesn’t prove anything untoward went on. It means they aren’t good at keeping their books. There is that small conflict of interest with the boyfriend but apparently the band approved him not Spence by herself. It does sound like she should be hiring a financial planner not railing away at the government.

    • Your comment is factual and reasonable; I do have to say thought that Scott Feschuk is the humour columnist here, hence the flippancy — it’s what he does. Actually, I found this humour column more balanced than many of the msm articles, radio interviews, TV interviews, about this all week.

    • “… Attawapiskatt and the federal government were negligant in keeping their books.”

      No, it showed that the federal government had been exceedingly lenient with Attawapiskat in the shoddy keeping of their books, and had failed to deploy the third party managers needed to bring the ‘first nation’ into compliance.

      But that’s partly a political issue, and partly one of resources. So many ‘first nations’ are in such bad state that it is a sysiphean task to try to get them all to function, particularly when the indians themselves don’t care.

      • I thought the gov’nt sent a third party manager, but was resisted, and ultimately turned away by the reserve.

    • Flippant is the operative word! Why so much disrespect for nations that have been stomped on and penalized too much!??!!

  8. anyone still believing that starving spence is consuming only fish broth is a bigger fool then she is…saw her in the press conference this morning…fake soft voice until someone asked about the money…then the voice rose to a roar but she refused to answer questions…still looks very healthy, no apparant weight loss yet media contiue to worry about her health.Side note…Mulcair said he was hosting some of the chiefs at his home last night…so what happened…no pictues, no story on this today. Spence was not invited…reason for media to ignore story or did chiefs cancel…want to know since Mulcair has been missing for the past month.
    When does Parliament return…then, hopefully the media will show us something other then spence and her idle group.

    • She does seem to still have her full complement of chins…

      • Yeah, she’s got more Chins than a Chinese phone book.

  9. It boils down to racism. They are either giving people special privileges
    because of who their parents were, or they are hurting them for it (depends on which side you are on).

    It doesn’t matter what specific group it is. They are being treated
    differently than everybody else, and that’s the problem. If you support equality, you should want to get rid of the treaties.