The Idle No More movement and the hunger strike by Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence have brought global attention to unresolved treaty issues and a broken relationship between Indigenous Peoples and many Canadians.
“I firmly believe this is an exciting time for all Canadians,” says Harley Eagle, a coordinator of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada’s work with Indigenous Peoples. “It is about resetting and redefining relationships. It is about starting over again.”
The catalyst for the demonstrations and protests is criticism that changes to government legislation affecting land, water, and natural resources were developed without appropriate consultation with First Nations.
In a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper dated Jan. 9, MCC Canada executive director Don Peters urges all levels of government and the Crown to build appropriate nation-to-nation relationships and to meet treaty obligations.
“Respectful relationships that recognize the right to self-determination and allow communities to flourish according to their own practices should undergird the government’s response both to daily concerns on First Nations’ reserves as well as long-term issues, such as upholding Treaty rights,” states the letter.
Eagle encourages non-Indigenous Canadians to be part of the process. He would especially like to see congregations and people of faith become more aware of the root causes of injustices faced by Indigenous Peoples.
“The Idle No More movement is inviting other Canadians, beyond First Nations, to ask the Canadian government why conditions are so deplorable for many First Nation communities,” says Eagle. “And why isn’t the nation-to-nation relationship that was agreed upon in the treaties upheld?”
Participants in this grassroots movement, he says, are saying “we won’t be idle anymore – we want to be heard.”
MCC, he says, has not been idle. Through its national and provincial programs, MCC is working with Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to support activities that promote reconciliation and respectful understanding.
In northern Ontario, MCC has been working alongside Spence’s impoverished Attawapiskat First Nation community for more than 30 years.
To honour this relationship and show their respect for Spence, MCC Ontario executive director, Rick Cober Bauman, and coordinator of MCC’s Aboriginal Neighbours program in Ontario, Lyndsay Mollins Koene, visited Spence Jan. 5, the 24th day of her hunger strike.
To learn more visit mythperceptions.ca, a website developed by MCC Canada’s Indigenous Work program.
Learn more about MCC’s provincial and national work at MCC’s Indigenous Peoples page.
—Gladys Terichow is a writer for MCC Canada