Was Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike worth it?

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has agreed to end her hunger protest, which she began Dec. 11 to push for meetings between the prime minister and First Nations leaders

On Thursday morning, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence finally ended her six week long hunger-strike after opposition leaders and national chiefs signed a 'Declaration of Commitment' to First Nations.

Ultimately, Spence didn't achieve what she wanted which was a meeting with both the prime minister and the Governor General.

She definitely brought the plight of First Nations' communities to the forefront, but her own troubles in Attawapiskat raised questions about financial accountability at the band council level.

Did her fast contribute to the success of the Idle No More movement or did it distract from it?

[ Related: Spence's 6-week hunger strike set for ceremonial end ]

CTV News' Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife says — despite the scathing Deloitte audit about the financial situation in Attawapiskat — on balance, it was probably all worth it.

"We've all covered Native stories and they very rarely get any kind of coverage unless they're of a situation where...people have died or they're living in terrible conditions," he said on CTV's Power Play on Wednesday.

"Despite [Chief Spence's] erratic behaviour and some of her demands, she definitely raised the bar in terms of focus on issues affecting First Nations people. There's absolutely no doubt about it.

"There were two weeks where the issues involving Natives were on almost every night on our national newscast and in all the newspapers and we dealt not just with her hunger strike but the whole issues of poverty and the lack of education and all that sort of stuff. And I do think, we would probably not have had the meeting with the prime minister as early as we did if it wasn't for her hunger strike."

The alternate view is put forward by Ernie Crey, a policy adviser for the Stó:lō Tribal Council in British Columbia, who told Yahoo! Canada News that the recent public opinion polls indicate that Canadians were already sympathetic to Aboriginal causes and that "dramatic demonstrations in the 'public square' were not necessarily needed."

"While she was a sympathetic figure in the early going and a bit of a rallying point for some Aboriginal peoples and even non-Aboriginals peoples I don't know what contribution her effort really made," Crey said in telephone interview on Thursday morning.

"What I've been trying to say is look...Canadians all along have been very sympathetic to Canada's Aboriginal people. They felt things needed to change and they would support that kind of change.

"As for Chief Spence, she was a sympathetic figure in the early going of her hunger strike and I wish her well. However, it’s now time to get back to serious talk between the AFN and [the prime minister] over the agenda they mutually agreed to in January 2012 at the Crown-First Nations Gathering."

[ Related: Awareness of Idle No More is widespread, poll suggests ]

Canadians seem to agree with Crey.

Individuals responding to a Nanos/CBC News poll, were asked whether they thought the hunger protest by Spence "will advance or not advance the cause of First Nations — 54.1 per cent of the respondents chose 'not advance.'

As Crey says, Spence is making the right decision to stop the strike and to head home.