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Pause and Reflect

As we enter the New Year, it is time for Chief Spence and Prime Minister Harper to pause and reflect about their on-going standoff. Both sides need to feel that they have won and both sides need to find a way to declare victory. Only then can the two sides proceed to the next step which should be fresh dialogue and agreed to solutions for key First Nations issues.

Some victories are won on the battlefield, some in the hearts and minds of politicians and voters. There is no doubt that Chief Spence has succeeded well beyond any expectations of her when she first started her individual protest. Canadians normally tune out from political issues during the Christmas holiday season, yet Spence kept aboriginal issues front and centre and she managed to do it peacefully garnering positive press coverage from coast to coast. That is a singular achievement few First Nations leaders have been able to achieve and her solitary protest reminds me of Elijah Harper sitting in the Manitoba Legislature defying the political establishment of his day. Clearly Chief Spence on behalf of the First Nations has won the propaganda war. The government’s tired talk point that the Prime Minister met last year with First Nations leaders is pretty weak and it’s no match for media coverage of the chief’s determination and hunger strike.

Chief Spence has succeeded in galvanizing First Nations communities, activists and youth to take action. Her efforts have helped the “Idle No more” movement which started in Saskatchewan, to take root and grow into a national movement. The movement will not go away any time soon and it is something both the present and future Canadian governments, as well as the First Nations leadership will have to deal with. There is more than enough here for Chief Spence to declare victory.

The Prime Minister also needs a face-saving victory. No national government regardless of its political stripe can be seen to give into a protest for the precedent it will set. He too, needs a way out. Victory for Harper will be one where he can say he did not give in to the protest.

Harper needs to reach out beyond his inner circle, cabinet and departmental advisors. Their advice is stale and hasn’t worked so far. This is an opportunity for Harper to put aside past partisan political issues and pick up the phone and call former Prime Minister Joe Clark, who met with Chief Spence last week. I was on Clark’s staff when he worked the back channels to help resolve another First Nations issue, he knows this file. As a former Prime Minister with a Conservative pedigree, he has the respect of many First Nations leaders, he also knows the issues and any advice he would offer the present Prime Minister would be nonpartisan and worth listening too. Having already met with Chief Spence, he also understands her position.

Harper also needs the help of National Chief Shawn Atleo. He needs Atleo’s advice and his expertise to find a face-saving solution. It shouldn’t be one that ends with some grand declaration, but a quiet agreement to work with Harper and First Nations communities over the next few months to reopen the dialogue that is needed to allow both sides to work together.

Atleo and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) need a solution almost as badly as Harper and Spence. Atleo, along with some elders and chiefs that Chief Spence holds in high regard has to be able to convey a solution to her and then work with Spence to look at positive ways to end her hunger strike.

Solutions exist, but both sides have to show flexibility, they also need a win-win situation. Both sides want to improve living conditions for First Nations, both sides also want increased opportunities for First Nations, especially for the youth. Who then will be the first to offer a hand in friendship this time and allow the dialogue to begin?

Reader Comments (10)

Excuse me?? Standoff? It would seem to me that it is a standoff of one person. PM Harper is continuing to run the country, while Chief Spence continues to make a spectacle of herself by failing to understand that leaders of countries do not bend to the wishes of wackos, and that having her boyfriend set up a contribution account on her behalf, signals exactly why many Canadians would just wish this woman would go home and shut up.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBillA

It is very sad that a First Nations role model is telling other Natives that suicide is the only answer to getting help.
Publicly committing suicide is surely an attention getting act, the message to young Natives is that there is no hope. Shameful.

Chief Spence is not a political prisoner.
She is a very well paid media grabbing band official .
Imo, anyone standing by watching and promoting her suicide is an accomplice. Don't we have laws against assisted suicide?

She refuses to speak with the person charged to facilitate Native affairs.
But Chief Spence will entertain movie stars, Lib leader wanna-be's, pretty much anyone who is followed by a camera.

We all know living on reserves located in the middle of nowhere brings only poverty.
So move.
If they won't move, I can't see anything changing, anytime.
The cycle of poverty, drug and alchol addiction, and sorrow will continue,
no amount of money will change that.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterwilson

This the most unrealistic post you have ever written unless you are condoning blackmail?

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFay

What are you drinking Keith??

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoeFrmEdm

You must not be thinking with a clear head, to much new years cheer!!
What rubish

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrown

I have to agree with the first two comments,Spence has won nothing except the approval of the left wing of the MSM and the usual suspects in the Indian Industry.

Spence is no role model for Natives,she's the opposite. Chiefs who ARE role models, like Clarence Louis of Osoyoos and Robert Louie of Westbank, are running businesslike Reserves,and seeing that their young people have some hope for the future.

These men take no part in the Indian grievance culture, while Spence wallows in it. Spence has to account for all the money that goes IN to the Band, but never seems to make a difference in the lives of the citizens of the Reserve.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmorris

Seems you are getting the same type of response to your Full Comment in the NP. Everyone thinks you are nuts or on something. As for Joe 90 saving us the god help Canada.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPissedoff

"On Joe Ckarks staff" that must explain this ridiculous article including the whopper that Joe Clark has a "Conservative pedigree"

Kieth you are out of control

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

Perhaps once you pause and reflect on this your opinion would change to having Chief Spense and her partner marched off for a nice healthy diet of prison food:

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence's household made as much as $250,000 in the fiscal year ending March 2011.

As the leader of the remote northern Ontario reserve stages a hunger strike in Ottawa, demanding that Prime Minister Stephen Harper meet with her to discuss the third-world conditions in her community, documents show that plenty of cash is moving through the settlement.

Financial audits show that while Spence was paid $71,377 as current chief, her partner, Clayton Kennedy, was also employed as the reserve's co-manager. Kennedy's consulting company, Moo Shum Enterprises Inc, charges $850 per day - working out to $221,000 per year.

An affidavit posted online states Kennedy's contract runs from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2013. The payment amounts are listed in financial documents on the band's website

With other band executives making more than $100,000 per year and a new ice re-surfacing machine bought during a housing crisis, some are wondering why the ongoing Idle No More campaign isn't calling for better financial oversight.

"There are issues such as lack of accountability on reserves, such as lack of governance and giving power into the hands of grassroots aboriginal people and not the chiefs and band councils - we're not hearing any of that," Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau told QMI Agency. Brazeau is an Algonquin Indian and says he has tried to meet with Spence himself. "I feel that a lot of the Idle No More movement is, in effect, a smoke screen because of the accountability legislation in particular that the Conservatives passed that will force band chiefs and councils to disclose salaries and expenses from this day forward."

Documents from 2008 show that while Spence was listed as the deputy chief under the name "Theresa Spence/Linklater" someone named "Theresa Linklater" also billed $25,660 for managing a daycare for three months.

Financial statements also show millions of dollars of stock are held by the reserve in companies such as Apple, Disney and Shoppers Drug Mart.

Calls to the Attawapiskat band office were not answered Thursday.

January 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThucydides

Have come upon this while researching the role that online movements like Idle No More play in influencing the policy agenda.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsite, I think the mistake you made here was to see the problem as a two-way split, when it was in fact a battle royale. On the one hand you had a small group who wanted Idle No More to be leaderless. Then you had AFN leaders led by Shawn Atleo. Then you had Theresa Spence who in many ways was a loose cannon from the AFN perspective. Then you had Anonymous , Occupy, Amnesty, Polaris, the Environmental lobby etc. as international coalition partners (although I am always suspicious that Anonymous may not be as international as it makes itself seem) who have an affinity for the grassroots groups, but in the end can really only access their views by paying attention to media sources which in the end landed on the Spence story. You also had a few opposition actors like Pam Palmater with another set of interests, not completely in favour of "leaderless" like the originators, but also not pro-AFN, primarily because they want to see different agenda put forth (led by someone on their side). Harper, of course, had to deal with the usual divisions of power -- oppositions, provinces and so on.

What was needed to broker a deal in this environment was some symbolic gesture that fulfilled the needs of the movement in identity terms. Harper, unfortunately, had his hands tied for a variety of reasons - the primary one being that the Truth and Reconcilliation process had not completed, but also there was the Education bill upcoming. In the end, the Idle No More movement likely weakened Atleo's position as leader and killed what I think was some decent Education legislation for First Nations (Pam Palmater of course was right in the thick of that issue). I also think Harper's fate may have been sealed as he cannot show the kind of leadership he needs to in order to play pool with the big boys on the World Stage. He's not credible on Climate Change, Energy is (for now) no longer the important opportunity it was and the people he needs to help complete the Truth and Reconciliation process are ignoring him.

Only solution now is new leadership. I don't think Harper will resign without strutting his campaign acumen one last time however. It's probably too late for that anyway.

Anyway, cheers on this essay! I think it's a classic amongst what I've read on Idle No More.

June 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Deschamps

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