A little more than three weeks ago, Chief Theresa Spence, leader of the Attawapiskat First Nations community in Ontario commenced a hunger strike in a traditional teepee on Victoria Island, just in front of the Canadian Parliament, in an attempt to bring about a meeting between the Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Crown and leaders of First Nations across the country to discuss the unlawful parts of the PM’s omnibus bill C-45, which is set to break treaties with First Nations and strip them of many basic human rights guaranteed to them both by international conventions and agreements made between Canadian aboriginal communities and the state in the past.
Her choice to keep up her hunger strike, even if it translates into having to sacrifice her life for her people – she has vowed to starve herself until the PM agrees to a meeting with her – is noble, and indicates that something indeed is rotten in the State of Canada at the moment. However, many uninformed and prejudiced, racist people, believe that Canada’s First Nations are over-reacting, and over the last couple of weeks, indigenous peaceful protests in Canada and elsewhere have been described as the actions of greedy, lazy, indigenous bastards on the front-pages of newspapers and in comment sections alike.
What is so telling of the racist hegemony it draws upon is that the language employed by the majority of non-indigenous people to describe the protests – colloquially known as the Idle No More movement, a movement which brings together Native Americans across the Americas in what could be referred to as the biggest decolonisation movement in decades – is that it draws upon a colonial discourse that has been around since 1492, showing how far away indeed Canada is from being a post-colonial state.
Talking about the language used to describe the protests, it is worth noting that Chief Theresa Spence has repeatedly been described as unfeminine, too non-Native looking and above all fat, and at the start of her hunger strike, one of many commentators suggested that no-one would have to listen to her until she’d lost at least 60lb and started looking like a woman. What is more, by referring to indigenous peoples as greedy and inhumane, they’re painted as brutal savages, less civilised and more corrupt than the European, white Western conquerors currently in charge of the country, and by belittling Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike by colonising her body with sexist, racist language, Western hegemony is trying to once again render the Subaltern a silent on-looker, happily agreeing with its own oppression.
The undeniable truth is that the current relationship between the Settler state and Canada’s indigenous peoples is anything but on equal terms; few people remember that the majority of Canada’s First Nations never relinquished their lands to the colonialists that stayed and became settlers in Canada. In fact, the land still belongs to Canada’s indigenous peoples, and the Settler government is given the right to use the land as guests in the treaties signed between the Crown and First Nations across the country. To thus push through an omnibus bill that more or less invalidates the treaties without consulting the First Nations concerned first shows how alive and well European colonialism still is in North America.
But why should we care about all this in the UK?
By virtue of being on the other side of the pond, it is easy to believe that what is happening in Canada at the moment is something we do not have to care about – ‘it all happened so long ago’ is an argument often used, ignoring the fact that colonialism and British imperialism far from is a finished action but rather an ongoing process, supported by the Crown and the Government alike – but the truth is that it is our Queen’s ignorance and unwillingness to pressure her representative in Canada to agree to a meeting with the First Nations’ leaders of the country her former Empire colonised and stole that is currently endangering the life of Chief Theresa Spence.
By not intervening, the Queen is silently agreeing to letting the Canadian right-wing PM to violate the treaties that were signed between the British monarch and Canada’s indigenous communities. The Crown has legal obligations to consult with First Nations with regards to any changes to the constitutionally agreed treaty rights, but at the moment nothing is happening.