Attawapiskat Chief Spence urges Idle No More to unite with leadership, says chiefs ready to 'humble themselves'

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who is on day 22 of a hunger strike, has asked the founders of the Idle No More movement to unify with First Nations leaders, saying “the chiefs are ready now to humble themselves for the people.”

APTN National News
OTTAWA–Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who is on day 22 of a hunger strike, has asked the founders of the Idle No More movement to unify with First Nations leaders, saying “the chiefs are ready now to humble themselves for the people.”

The letter to Sylvia McAdam, Jess Gordon, Nin Was’te and Sheelah McLean, was written on behalf of Spence by one of her closest aides, Angela Bercier, a student from Long Plain First Nation who is in Aboriginal studies at the University of Ottawa.

In the letter, released Tuesday, Spence asks the founders of Idle No More not to “shame” chiefs for their past mistakes and instead unite.

“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,'” said the letter, which was signed by Bercier under her spirit name Apischi Kihiwikwan Iskwew.

MacAdam told APTN National News Tuesday evening that the founders would respond to the letter by Wednesday.

“Individual chiefs have supported us and that hasn’t changed. It is just that the system they have to function in limits them, but INM doesn’t have those limitations,” said McAdam. “We are willing to talk with leadership; we want to let all people know that the leadership cannot lead this movement.”

Tensions have emerged over the role of First Nations chiefs in the ever-widening Idle No More movement. Idle No More organizers issued a statement Monday that distanced the movement from the chiefs.

“The chiefs have called for action and anyone who chooses can join with them, however, this is not part of the Idle No More movement as the vision of this grassroots movement does not coincide with the visions of the leadership,” said the statement, posted on the Idle No More Facebook page.

First Nations chiefs have discussed launching nation-wide economic disruptions through rail and highway blockades on Jan. 16 if Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to ignore Spence’s request for a treaty meeting with First Nations leaders.

Many among the grassroots worry chiefs would try to co-opt the movement for their own ends.

“The IA (Indian Act) chiefs can join the fight as people, not as the faces,” said Clayton Tootoosis, an Idle No More organizer on Onion Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. “The colonial system used to oppress (Spence’s) people is the very system used to elect her.”

In the letter, Bercier acknowledges that chiefs have a lot to answer for and their past actions but the uniqueness and scope of the current movement has presented an opportunity for redemption.

“Chief Spence’s message is that the chiefs must and will redeem themselves despite an imperfect past; the time has come for the leaders of our nations to become one and the same as the people,” wrote Bercier, who has been at Spence’s side from the moment the chief announced her plans to launch the hunger strike. “I know as well as you do the tendency for chiefs, most especially men, to try to dominate, control, co-opt and thereby weaken our grassroots movements…The best among our chiefs, including Chief Spence herself, are currently demonstrating that they want to play a meaningful role in Idle No More by collaborating with its grassroots catalysts.”

In the letter, Bercier writes that Spence’s hunger strike was entering an “urgent phase” and it was time for the grassroots to reconcile with the First Nations leadership to make a “stronger movement” with a “fighting chance” of making the Attawapiskat chief’s demand a reality.

“As much as I stand behind the Chief in her brave stand, I also do not want to see her die, nor do I think you, any of the Chiefs, or any of the grassroots people want such a tragic thing to occur,” wrote Bercier, “Thus I am imploring with you to continue with all your might as a female Indigenous way-showers to lead our people in reconciling with the best of our chiefs. In this way we can strategize together for a stronger movement and perhaps, if it is the will of the Creator, stand a fighting chance at bringing about the conditions for the end of our Ogitchita kwe’s hunger strike.”

The letter:

Download (PDF, 40KB)

Online Producer / Ottawa

Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.

30 thoughts on “Attawapiskat Chief Spence urges Idle No More to unite with leadership, says chiefs ready to 'humble themselves'

  1. The Idle no more movement is saying no we do not support Harper, I stand with them. The Government wants us to die that is why they do not acknowledge Chief Theresa Spence but un the Criminal Code of Canada section 19 Ignorance is no excuse and if she or any of the Hunger strikers die He could be charged as a murderer! people dont know that do they? Theresa is not the only one and yes the bill c-45 interferes with not only my right to tribal custom and usage but to everyones. My people have diebetise because we dont eat or work the way we did a long time ago, and still the Government is forcing us to follow their way! Why? it goes agenst the original treatise of 408 a.d, the one the clan mothers signed……..which clearly states they were in breach of it as soon as they came here. They where not suppose to bring their ship to our shores…

  2. The chief Theresa is giving up! She does not realize that she is being tricked into giving in for nothing she will choose to support the Bill C-45 in order to get a few houses for her people. I know when I stopped my hunger strike in 1991 in Alberta they promised me and my people that my children will have contact with the band- they lied! insted they accused me of being a child molester with no evidence and if I truely was why would they give me back the darker child? would he not be in need of protection as well? Come on the truth!!! Can the Government not tell the truth? No because they are pirates, who live in Parlay ment. Check the history! it goes back far when King James Son and Heir to the throne was over thrown by his sisters and the Cathelic Church’s orders they called in the Scotish Kings people, the masonic’s as well as the pirates in order to do this and the captain on that ship was called Jack Black or is that John Black because of the color of his hair. The truth is I lost my children because I was teaching them our way of life and they said because it was an accult lifestyle my children were in need of protection but the dark child was an Indian and he would be alright! 1978 that Law was suppose to change – we have a right under the charter of rights and freedoms section 25 to practice our was of life. But no one reconizes the Law- I spent 26 days in jail with out food! Why because I was arrested on a warrent that I did not know exsisted when I started a spiritual fast, they would not allow me to break that fast the way It is ment to be…. I live in a cabin in the bush and had no address so no bail was issued. I almost died as a result of this….. And no one cares because I am not a chief!

  3. Spence asks the founders of Idle No More not to “shame” chiefs for their past mistakes and instead unite. but by all means shame the whiteman for all theirs show me the money chiefs justify the pay chiefs justify the excess band councils and double dippers chief show me the money wher did it go show us how you you make poor decisions all the time and you want us to listen to you LOL Hhahahahahha

    1. you are a idiot don’t be lazy the info is out there find it yourself
      the only shame is your own grasping at straws & being a sucker
      you are being tooled & you don’t even know it lol

  4. I am an instructor at Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, and I am with you Chief Spence. Idle no more. Stephen Harper is nothing more than a Canadian copy of an American Republican neo-con who cares nothing for indigenous peoples or his country so long as he gets what he wants–power.

  5. It’s no wonder so many comments aren’t positive in response to how we as First Nations peoples can’t seem to agree on anything together. I keep reading comments everywhere (Facebook, websites, blogs, newspapers online, etc) and I find it disheartening and sad that during the largest movement to grab hold of us all in a longtime, at the very time we need unity among us, we aren’t coming together…in full view of the media, Canada, the World; the very time when we finally have their attention, they hear/read/see of division amongst our people. Come on people!!! who knows how long we’ll have the attention of media, our country, the world and it’s just common sense that we should be using this to our advantage…stop the crap now before it gets out of hand and grows a life of it’s own beyond our control!!

  6. I agree with “Idle No More” it can’t be part of the Chiefs because the Chiefs sit under the Indian Act whether or not they believe it. They are Government Indians and you don’t need that under a grassroots movement like “Idle No More” It’s time for freedom not to reenter the system if you want to effect real change. The Chiefs under the current political system are ineffective, they have to dance to the tune of the Piper(Steven Harper) which is their reality.

  7. Peaceful Demonstration is key to the movement and this will continue as long as Bill C-45 remains and any other Bill that directly or indirectly dismisses Treaty Obligations to our Land Base. Treaty Chiefs have pushed forward and knocked on the doors of our welcomed quest house and did not answer there quest for equal representation. This message was said already and why do you want them to say the same thing in another way and waist time with this query any longer. Idle No More is a reflection of this and should act as a catalist for what has already been said not the other way around. Treaty 6.


  9. Keeping things up & talking to the elders plus keeping the peace
    is getting under the skin of some but some have joined remember
    that. Ms. Spence has to do what she has to do she has chosen
    bye her hand.remember her as well. The world is looking in
    show What kind of people help build Canada.If you see your
    brother or sister start damaging things remind them that won’t
    help the cause .We are better than that. Keep the
    support coming in from the world.Others in this country are getting
    sick of this Governments way of doing things as of late.Mother earth
    needs us.getting back to the table & working out a deal of Sharing
    or title back & kill the act it prevents people from controling their lives
    idle no more

    Peace it works better.

  10. It is not a question of “mistakes” but instead one of deliberate betrayal and collaboration on the part of the Indian Act chiefs. Being one herself, chief Spence is, not surprisingly, ready to forgive and forget. While it’s true we need to aim our sights on the colonial system as a whole, the band councils are themselves an integral part of that system and are used historically to control and suppress grassroots Natives peoples.

    1. The Chiefs themselves are part of the system and unable to produce results for the people which is why Idle No More has been birthed. the time for the Chiefs has come and gone it’s time for something new and needs to be at the grassroots level. People are sick and tired of being sick and tired, the Chiefs are no longer a viable option to speak for the people it’s time the people spoke up for themselves. “Idle No More is that vehicle for the people”. We need stronger representation in that colonial system not a by product of it. Idle No More!!!!

      1. Division within our own people is exactly what the government & naysayers are hoping for and want…you’re giving them exactly what they want…it originally seemed like the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality (First Nations peoples vs govt) now that very scenario is being created within ‘us’….sad!!

  11. Ms. Spence still seems to be missing the point. A request for Idle No More leadership to join with the chiefs reflects a lack of understanding. It is those who have sat separate and above their people that need to stand among them. Even the very singular act of this drawn out threat of self imposed death demonstrates a certain level of narcissism.
    Stop this real or staged suicide mission and join the people. Glorification of such an act is the last thing our young people need. Humble yourself and stand equally with everyone else and quit the quest for martyrdom. If you believe creation placed you on this current path then perhaps you need more education about what is real and what is imagined.

    1. Ms. Spence has chosen buy her own hand.
      Just like some who have choosen to stand
      with this Government we cannot prevent that
      it is their choice.What is real is what is now

      The path chosen is going forward. Direction
      will be bye the people how ever they choose as
      a person how we got here past tence
      we are here we are awake

    2. Imposing ones will is not this peoples choice
      insults is what we expect from people such as your self

      she has chosen her path you or i will not change that

      1. Sometimes it takes the sacrifice of life in order to right a wrong. It’s called conviction, combined with the courage to stand for the people no matter the cost. I admire the chiefs willingness, and commitment.

    3. My friend…you come across the learned Indian…Learned in the ways of the settler…..not a bad thing in and of itself….you have become a big time radio host who has no doubt lent some assistance to the suffering Native americans…In this instance however, I truly believe it is yourself who is missing the point….real or staged, this “suicide mission”, as you refer to it, is a potent tactic employed by more than one noteworthy individual towards profound social change….your dissmissive comments do nothing but damage and cheapen a commitment so moving as to obliterate the “devil’s advocate” role I can only hope your words are intended as….in my territory…we would refer to commentators such as your self as the “Rezfugee”….people who have look back with distain on those continue to struggle….

  12. I think the Chiefs need to follow the lead of Idle No More. There has to be a different kind of thinking than the old style, which currently pits the Chiefs and Federal Government against each other.
    They have a vision which has not worked. We need a new vision.

    1. Talking to the Chiefs to let them know how the people
      feel on this issue they do need imput from the grassroots
      some want to help but do not know how on the grassroots level
      they do repesent the people after all including everybody
      should be a vision more people working for the same goal
      will work better than split up


  13. Division between the people and their leaders only gives strength to the Harper Government, do not fall into this trap. What the people are fighting for in their protests concerns all of us, First Nations and non First Nations. Keep that GOAL in mind, we must put aside our differences for now and speak as one VOICE.

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