Violent Silence

The #idlenomore movement has brought First Nations voices out within the hearing of the general Canadian settler population. This is unquestionably a Good Thing.

One of the most powerful parts of this growing protest has been the hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation. George Strombolopolous has one of the simplest, and clearest CBC pieces on what she is asking for, and what this means for her and for those who have decided to join in solidarity with her. Despite Governor General David Johnson’s claim (in an interview linked here) that what she is asking for is unclear, it is not. She wants to speak directly to the representatives of the people with whom her people – the people she represents as Chief – have a treaty. What is being asked, here, is a meeting of equals, not yet another disrespectful dismissal in the form of an audience with anyone other than the people who run this show. 

Labour Unions have come out to support Spence and Idle No More, with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers commenting:

We recognize the racist and genocidal history of Canada and that the attempts to assimilate and silence Indigenous voices have been rife with failure and abuse.

This is one of the ugliest types of violence – forcing people into silence, and responding to their requests to be heard with refusal, even in the face of their willingness to die. While Spence and First Nations people across the country are finding ways to combat this force and make their voices heard, Harper is also continuing to find a way to engage in violent silence. Refusing to have this conversation – for reasons that he has not made remotely clear, in my opinion – constitutes murder.

That Rabble article linked above also includes a statement by Thomas Mulcair, leader of the official opposition, which urges Harper to meet with Spence to avoid a “personal tragedy” for her. That’s a huge step up from Harper’s own actions, but it is disappointingly far from what needs to be said. Harper is amplifying a violent silence that has been ongoing for quite some time, escalating these acts with a calm shake of his head. Mulcair is asking him not to escalate this action against Spence as an individual, but he is not asking for anything that might disrupt the ongoing violent silence that is destroying Canada’s First Nations.

I hope this conversation between Harper, Johnson, and Spence will happen, and I hope that it becomes a long one. I also hope that one conversation, which will hopefully avert a “personal tragedy” is not seen as the end of a much, much longer period of silence and silencing.


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