An Open Letter to Stephen Harper re: Chief Theresa Spence

Dear Mr. Harper:

Where are you, man? It seems like it’s been forever since you’ve been around. You’re aware, I hope, that one of our friends, and one of your fellow citizens, Chief Theresa Spence, is literally dying to see you. She hasn’t eaten since December 12, you see. She’s waiting for you to come down and meet her. She doesn’t want anything from you right now- just your attention. Now I can understand of course that you’re a busy guy- you’ve got executives to shmooze with, a caucus to manage, and I’m sure your hockey book is probably taking up some time as well. I even hear that you have a family. So I can understand that you wouldn’t have be able to see Chief Spence immediately, even though I’m certain that you would love to.

But Mr. Harper, it’s been weeks. Three weeks. Twenty-one days. Our friend, and your fellow citizen Chief Spence has not eaten in that time. I’m sure that you, Mr. Harper, have enjoyed some tasty meals since then, surrounded by your friends and loved ones. I’m sure that you can understand the tremendous force it must take her to maintain her strike, and the serious danger she is placing herself in as the holidays fade into winter. You, Mr. Harper, and you alone, have the power to save her. I know that you know this, because you’ve sent faxes, e-mails, and phone calls to her office- I also know that you know, like the rest of the world, that Chief Spence is not there, that she is in a tent on an island in the Ottawa River, spitting distance from your office.

It’s been three weeks, Mr. Harper, and the only logical conclusion I can draw is that you are choosing to ignore her. Presumably, you are motivated by two things. The first is the desire to prove that hunger strikes won’t work, and that you are prepared to see our friend and fellow citizen into the grave rather than imply that others, too, could meet you if they showed a similar fortitude. The other thing, I assume, is the same thing that motivated Jean Charest this spring, when hundreds of thousands of young people flooded the streets of Montréal and other cities in Quebec- that you think this strike is meaningless, that your mind is made up, and that you will execute your planned agenda regardless of dissent.

Let me take the second point first. Last spring, the student strike was called meaningless by all sorts of commentators. “Who cares if the students don’t go to class, they’re only hurting themselves!” “Tuition fees are going up, there’s nothing they can do about it!” “If we ignore them, they’ll go away!” However, the one thing that is very clear, almost a year after the strike, is that ignoring the protestors was the absolute worst thing Charest could have done. It strengthened their resolve. It made them louder, it made them work harder. I was there, after all, and I can’t say it more succinctly than this: “Cri haut, plus fort, pour que personne ne nous ignore!” Shout! Louder! So no one can ignore us!

And six months after the fact, Charest lost his job, and the fee increases were cancelled. The protestors understood something fundamental about a democracy that Charest, seemingly, did not: here, policy comes from the street and it’s up to the politicians to implement what the people want. We do not elect someone for him or her to impose their plans- we elect them to implement ours. Charest was charged in his position with implementing policy developed collaboratively and which reflected Quebec values. Universal access to education, free assembly, and free speech are Quebec values: endebting those who simply wish to learn for learning’s sake is not.

Nobody voted for you for dictator, Mr. Harper- you are a public servant. Canadians voted for your party because they trusted you to be a sound manager whose agenda would reflect the values of the country. Conservatism- the idea that we should move carefully, cautiously, do our research, listen moderately to dissenting views, and build a nest egg sustainably- this is a Canadian value. Limitless, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources for private profit on the backs of our First Nations brothers and sisters is not.

Mr. Harper, you might think that Chief Spence’s hunger strike is meaningless. You might think she’s only hurting herself, you might think these resources are going to be developed anyway, so who cares if she wants to starve herself to death? You might think that if you ignore her, and her allies, that we will go away. But thinking this way will lead you nowhere productive. If you don’t meet her, Chief Spence will die. You don’t need me to explain what type of social movement that will set off- you will be faced with hate, vitriol, and the fury of those whose loved one you could have saved, but chose to ignore.

But you have a second option. Though you want to prove hunger strikes don’t work, that Chief Spence should follow the proper channels (the same ‘proper channels’ responsible for residential schools, land theft, and thousands of other injustices, might I remind you), you could do something different. You could leave your Mountie buddies on the shore, humbly step into a canoe, and paddle yourself out there. Have a cup of tea with our friend and your fellow citizen, and truly hear her concerns. Hear where she is coming from. If you are lucky, maybe you too will hear the rhythm of the living earth with which we have been blessed through drum circles and round dances.

Because I agree, Mr. Harper, than Canada is a blessed country, and that this can be Canada’s century. All the ingredients are here. But your neo-liberal, slash and burn, for-profit mentality will not get us there, and is indeed a dogma responsible for many of the gravest injustices of the 20th century. Like the carrés rouges in the spring, like IdleNoMore now, and like the waves of protest movements to come, we are millions of Canadians demanding social and environmental justice today. You, Mr. Harper, can either join us, and help us save our shared natural environment and restore our First Nations allies to their rightful place as the senior partner of Confederation, or you can be swept aside by the tide of history.

I hope, for your sake, and the sake of Chief Spence, that you decide soon, because I don’t think any of us should need to wait one more day.

Best regards,

Marc “Richard”