APTN National News
OTTAWA–Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who is on day 22 of a hunger strike, has asked the founders of the Idle No More movement to unify with First Nations leaders, saying “the chiefs are ready now to humble themselves for the people.”
The letter to Sylvia McAdam, Jess Gordon, Nin Was’te and Sheelah McLean, was written on behalf of Spence by one of her closest aides, Angela Bercier, a student from Long Plain First Nation who is in Aboriginal studies at the University of Ottawa.
In the letter, released Tuesday, Spence asks the founders of Idle No More not to “shame” chiefs for their past mistakes and instead unite.
“This is Chief Spence’s message: ‘Let us come together in unity, because all of us, chiefs and grassroots, are one. If we are going to point fingers, let us point them squarely at this colonial government. The chiefs have made mistakes in the past, but don’t shame them for these. They are, after all, our people. The chiefs are ready now to humble themselves for the people,’” said the letter, which was signed by Bercier under her spirit name Apischi Kihiwikwan Iskwew.
MacAdam told APTN National News Tuesday evening that the founders would respond to the letter by Wednesday.
“Individual chiefs have supported us and that hasn’t changed. It is just that the system they have to function in limits them, but INM doesn’t have those limitations,” said McAdam. “We are willing to talk with leadership; we want to let all people know that the leadership cannot lead this movement.”
Tensions have emerged over the role of First Nations chiefs in the ever-widening Idle No More movement. Idle No More organizers issued a statement Monday that distanced the movement from the chiefs.
“The chiefs have called for action and anyone who chooses can join with them, however, this is not part of the Idle No More movement as the vision of this grassroots movement does not coincide with the visions of the leadership,” said the statement, posted on the Idle No More Facebook page.
First Nations chiefs have discussed launching nation-wide economic disruptions through rail and highway blockades on Jan. 16 if Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to ignore Spence’s request for a treaty meeting with First Nations leaders.
Many among the grassroots worry chiefs would try to co-opt the movement for their own ends.
“The IA (Indian Act) chiefs can join the fight as people, not as the faces,” said Clayton Tootoosis, an Idle No More organizer on Onion Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. “The colonial system used to oppress (Spence’s) people is the very system used to elect her.”
In the letter, Bercier acknowledges that chiefs have a lot to answer for and their past actions but the uniqueness and scope of the current movement has presented an opportunity for redemption.
“Chief Spence’s message is that the chiefs must and will redeem themselves despite an imperfect past; the time has come for the leaders of our nations to become one and the same as the people,” wrote Bercier, who has been at Spence’s side from the moment the chief announced her plans to launch the hunger strike. “I know as well as you do the tendency for chiefs, most especially men, to try to dominate, control, co-opt and thereby weaken our grassroots movements…The best among our chiefs, including Chief Spence herself, are currently demonstrating that they want to play a meaningful role in Idle No More by collaborating with its grassroots catalysts.”
In the letter, Bercier writes that Spence’s hunger strike was entering an “urgent phase” and it was time for the grassroots to reconcile with the First Nations leadership to make a “stronger movement” with a “fighting chance” of making the Attawapiskat chief’s demand a reality.
“As much as I stand behind the Chief in her brave stand, I also do not want to see her die, nor do I think you, any of the Chiefs, or any of the grassroots people want such a tragic thing to occur,” wrote Bercier, “Thus I am imploring with you to continue with all your might as a female Indigenous way-showers to lead our people in reconciling with the best of our chiefs. In this way we can strategize together for a stronger movement and perhaps, if it is the will of the Creator, stand a fighting chance at bringing about the conditions for the end of our Ogitchita kwe’s hunger strike.”