Protesters supporting a Native Canadian chief’s 23-day hunger strike blocked a rail line at Pointe-a-la-Croix in eastern Quebec Jan. 2. Theresa Spence of Ontario’s Attawapiskat First Nation has been fasting to press her demands for a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss new legislation that weakens indigenous land rights and environmental protections. The new law, part of the Harper government’s budget bill, sparked the #IdleNoMore movement, which has brought together First Nations and environmental activists in a wave of protests across Canada.
At Pointe-a-la-Croix, protesters blocked cargo transport but allowed passenger trains through. “We are aware our fight is not with the citizens of this country, but rather the Harper government,” Alexander Morrison, a spokesman for the group, told CBC News. Many protesters are from the nearby Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation.
Spence has held her fast in a traditional teepee within sight of the parliament buildings in Ottawa, consuming only water, fish broth and a medicinal tea. “I know it’s hard for people to understand what I’m doing,” she told reporters last month. “But it’s for this pain that’s been going on too long with our people.” Harper last met First Nations leaders in January 2012. (BBC News, Jan. 2; OilChange, Dec. 20)
In an open letter Jan. 2, Spence asked the the Idle No More movement to unify with First Nations leaders. The letter, actually penned under Spence’s instruction by Angela Bercier, a University of Ottawa student from the Long Plain First Nation, reads: “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.” The letter was signed by Bercier under her traditional name Apischi Kihiwikwan Iskwew. (APTN, Jan. 2)