Ahow Ogichidaakwe Theresa, nimiigwetchiwiyin. Aazhaa kigiigichiminochige. Kidaagiigiiwe noongom. Gegoo chaaniminoken. Gigaminoayaamin. Kidaagiimawadisaag kidaanisag nongom. Miigwetch ndikid. [Translation to follow]
To Chief Theresa Spence,
I am writing to you to tell you that when you break your fast and end your hunger strike there should be no shame in your heart. You should hold your head high, for you have done a good thing for our people.
Our Anishinaabe people have a word “Ando-bawaajige”, vision quest, which refers to the ceremony where we fast in order to seek a dream. Our sister Leanne Simpson has pointed out that this is similar to the spiritual journey that you, Ray Robinson, Jean Sock and the other hunger strikers have been on.
Through some mysterious process the universe has chosen you to take on your important work at a unique moment in our people’s history. All of our peoples’ history. First the media frenzy about living conditions in Attawapiskat a year ago. Then the court challenge against your community’s third party manager. Now the hunger strike. When the forces of history have called your name, you haven’t backed down. You stood up for environmental and social justice. It is for this reason we call you “Ogichidaakwe”, a term that literally means “Warrior woman”, but is colloquially used to mean “Saint.” You may not be perfect, but you have become a hero.
You will be indelibly linked to “Idle No More.” You began your hunger strike shortly after the people’s movement began. You helped to galvanize support. The role you played in making our people care about their futures can not be understated. Your work, in conjunction with “Idle No More”, helped also to bring about a renewed focus on our issues on the political level which resulted in the meeting between the Assembly of First Nations and the Prime Ministers Office on January 11. You also lead the delegation of treaty chiefs to meet with the Governor General that day, thereby showing continued good faith in dealing with our crown treaty partners.
Beyond the politicians, you helped to bring the issue of Indigenous rights back to the forefront of the national collective conscience within Canada. Whether people agree with the goals of “Idle No More” or not, they have been forced to consider our cause and to hold their existing views of Aboriginal people up to the light. Many of our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters are now taking it upon themselves to learn about the issues and find ways to get involved to help us all succeed together. This will alter the course of Canada over the coming generations.
The media needed a character with which to tell the story of Idle No More. You became that figurehead. As the backlash mounted, your prominence made you a target. The audit of your community caused many to question your integrity. Many of the comments degenerated into vulgar character assassination. You maintained your dignity through out. While there must be greater accountability for public funds it does not appear as though anything criminal happened. I have spoken with qualified First Nations managers who are willing to help your community chart a course to fiscal stability, if you choose to reach out to them.
I hope you know that even in the midst of these attacks many of our own people raised you up to great heights. I have traveled the country and seen little children holding signs featuring your name. I have met young women with t-shirts and earrings emblazoned with your face. You became the hero that many people needed, a testament to the dignified, quiet strength so many of our people possess. You helped those young ones find their voice.
The most compelling reason to end your fast is not a political one however, but a personal one. At the meeting at the Governor General’s residence, I was struck by the presence of your three daughters. I thought to myself, these young women need their mom. Indeed, your daughters need a mother more than your people need a martyr.
One month ago I said goodbye to my Father for the last time. The time we spent together before he passed will be held in my heart forever and has made me a better person. This helps me to appreciate how much you and your daughters deserve the chance to create more of your own memories together. I pray you now have the chance to do so, and that many more moons pass before you have to think about saying “goodbye”. In the words of our great Shawnee brother Tecumseh “Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.” You have served the people. You should also make your life long.
So go now and be with your family. Enjoy many good meals together and each others warm company. You can rest now knowing that others will carry your work forward. The National Chief, the leaders of the opposition and even the Prime Minister have committed to action for the benefit of Indigenous people. The thousands of young people, mobilized and engaged by “Idle No More”, myself included, will work to hold them to account. We will try to ensure they produce real change for all of our children, in a way that respects who we are.
Our Anishinaabe people have another term that relates to dreams that I would like to share: Izhii’oon. This says that after we receive a dream in a spiritual setting we should work hard to make it come to pass. You have helped bring the vision to our people. All of our people. It is up to the rest of us now to make it reality.
Ahow, Miigwetch. Thank you,
[Translation of opening]: Oh Chief Theresa, I thank you. You have done a very good thing. You should return to your home now. Don’t worry. We will be alright. You should spend time with your daughters now. I say thank you.