It would be a mistake to dismiss the aboriginal hunger strikes and demonstrations occurring now across Canada as merely the latest in a series of angry outbursts that will disappear as suddenly as they appeared, only to surface again in the future following the next complaint of injustice and violation of rights.
It would also be a mistake, however, to presume that the issues are one-sided -- that the national government must alone act before equity for Canada's beleaguered First Nations can be achieved. Aboriginals, too, must also be prepared to consider and propose fundamental reforms that would help lift them out of poverty and despair.
Three aboriginals, including an Ontario chief, have started hunger strikes -- an ancient method used to achieve justice or even to collect debts -- while a new protest movement known as Idle No More has harnessed the power of the Internet and social media to rally aboriginals from coast to coast in peaceful protest.
It has attracted worldwide attention, including from such unlikely places as Norway and Egypt. A few Americans have even launched four-day hunger strikes in support of the Canadian movement. Celebrities, too, including actor Adam Beach, have met Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat First Nation in her tent in Ottawa to show support, as have opposition political leaders.
Chief Spence's demand, however, for an immediate audience with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Governor General before abandoning her hunger strike is unrealistic and borders on blackmail. Her diet of lemon water, fish broth and medicinal teas means her health is not in immediate danger, but a conversation with the prime minister next week or three weeks from now is unlikely to deliver the results she is seeking.
Canadians are largely sympathetic to the tough circumstances facing aboriginals, but few people believe the problems can be solved without fundamental reforms in the way First Nations are organized and administered, while legal rights can be interpreted by the courts.
-- Winnipeg Free Press
Harper should meet Spence
Basic human concern for a person in extreme distress would compel some leaders into action. But not Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Recognition of the historic injustice committed against native peoples could move some to reach out. And shame over the dire conditions that prevail on so many reserves might push other leaders to bend. Not Harper.
None of those factors have been reason enough for him to stir from Parliament Hill and take a short walk to Victoria Island, in the middle of the Ottawa River. That's where Chief Theresa Spence, of hard-pressed Attawapiskat, has been on a hunger strike that started Dec. 11 over the plight of aboriginal communities.
This has gone far beyond a matter of aboriginal policy and is a concern for Canadians at large.
If simple human concern, a determination to right historic injustices, and a goal of making life better on reserves aren't enough to move Harper, here's a reason he'll likely understand: meeting Spence would be politically expedient. More than that, it might just avert disaster.
If she were to die, or suffer serious harm, the protests seen thus far would be merely a gentle rain compared to the hurricane of anger to follow. By meeting Spence, Harper would spare all Canadians, including native people, from a dangerous and frightening escalation of bitterness. He should do so as soon as possible.
-- Toronto Star