Straight Talk
LORNE GUNTER - Steady diet of delusions: Hunger-striking chief demands PM’s attention for week (or two)

Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie

LORNE GUNTER | QMI AGENCY

During one of his famous hunger strikes for farm workers’ rights in the 1960s and 1970s, activist Cesar Chavez had to fight off a supporter who tried to force feed him orange juice.

Despite his weakened condition, Chavez was able to knock the juice glass out of his supporter’s hand and angrily insist that even the consumption of juice would violate the spirit of his fast.

Contrast that with Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. The Northern Ontario chief is claiming to be on a hunger strike until Prime Minister Stephen Harper agrees to meet with her to discuss Ottawa’s treaty obligations.

But Spence is consuming broth “several times a day,” according to reports, plus several cups of tea and water.

That’s not a hunger strike, it’s a diet. Good for you, Chief Spence. You’ve joined the millions of Canadians who’ve pledged to drop a few pounds this New Year. A noble goal, to be sure, but hardly a great spiritual or political achievement.

If Spence’s claim to be on a hunger strike weren’t ridiculous enough, it was revealed Wednesday that she doesn’t want just any meeting with Prime Minister Harper.

“This meeting has to be not just one day, it has to be at least a week or two weeks,” she insisted. That’s delusional.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan has offered to meet with Spence. She has refused, insisting instead that she will only meet with the PM. You can bet Spence herself wouldn’t agree to meet for as long as a week or two with any disgruntled resident of the northern reserve she so badly mismanages.

And she is the leader of a community of 1,800 or fewer.

Remember, too, this is the same Theresa Spence whose remote community made national news last year when it was revealed that some residents were facing a winter in decrepit housing — including uninsulated tents.

Spence (and many of the same publicity-seeking opposition politicians who have rushed to her side this time) insisted the fault was Ottawa’s, even though the federal government had given her tiny community more than $90 million in the previous five years.

Spence herself had a comfortable office and home with big-screen satellite television and high-speed Internet.

Her reserve had also received millions more from the Ontario government, from nearby mines and from casinos and still was nearly $12 million in debt.

But the delusion goes well beyond Chief Spence to the greater Idle No More aboriginal movement that has so closely aligned itself with her protest.

Idle No More, which has been blockading train lines and organizing protests across the country, has convinced itself the federal government is surreptitiously changing federal law to make it easy for aboriginal governments to sell off land from their reserves.

That simply is not happening.

At the behest of elected reserve governments, Ottawa is changing the law to streamline the leasing of reserve land for casinos and other businesses.

At present, the Indian Act gives the federal government a very patronizing role in approving new leases.

The new law would give greater control to elected on-reserve leaders.

But the rules making it difficult to sell reserve land permanently are not changing.

Like Spence, though, Idle No More supporters have deluded themselves into seeing Ottawa as out to get them.

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