The Canadian Labour Congress supports Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, who is on a hunger strike in Ottawa. She is determined not to eat until granted an audience with the Prime Minister to discuss conditions on her reserve and government actions that compromise First Nations communities, land and water. We urge the Prime Minister to meet with Chief Spence.
The deplorable housing situation at Attawapiskat made international headlines in 2011. Leaders there declared a state of emergency for the third time in three years in response to falling temperatures, and the resulting health and safety concerns due to inadequate housing. Many residents were living in tents, trailers and temporary shelters, and many residences and public buildings lacked running water and electricity. In one case, children, the elderly, and the ill were sleeping in rooms just a few feet away from a 2009 raw sewage spill that had not been adequately cleaned up.
The story is all too familiar for Attawapiskat and other First Nations communities. Chief Spence says that the federal government has embarked on an agenda that flies in the face of the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.
Chief Spence’s action has helped to galvanize a movement called Idle No More, which arose as a result of the federal government’s recent omnibus Bill C-45. The legislation amends the Navigable Waters Protection Act,
which will allow the government to approve projects on more than 160 lakes without consulting First Nations. Bill C-45 also makes changes to the Indian Act, including to land management on reserves that make it easier to lease out land for economic development without consulting band residents. The impact of these changes will be devastating for many First Nations communities. There is also continuing frustration over a lack of action in the cases of more than 600 aboriginal women who have been murdered or gone missing in the past 20 years.
The CLC urges its affiliates and Federations of Labour to extend support to Chief Spence and to those participating in the Idle No More movement.