Reporters evicted from Attawapiskat reserve, Theresa Spence’s Ottawa encampment

Matt Coutts
Daily BrewJanuary 9, 2013

Chief Theresa Spence and the media covering her hunger strike, and her troubled Attawapiskat band, are apparently past the honeymoon period, with tense dialogue and outright reporting bans now spotting the landscape.

Spence is 29 days into the hunger strike she launched in protest of the way Ottawa treats First Nations communities. The act became the symbolic cornerstone of the Idle No More movement, and played a part in convincing Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet with First Nations leaders this Friday.

And then the audit happened.

[ Related: Chief Phil Fontaine expresses hope for hunger strike, Idle No More protests ]

The Conservative government released the findings of a financial audit into the Attawapiskat First Nations this week, which revealed a lack of documentation for some $104 million in federal funding between 2005 and 2011.

An Idle No More spokesperson told Yahoo! Canada News that the timing of the audit’s release was political and meant to distract from the movement. Spence similarly claimed the released was meant to discredit her.

Whatever was behind the timing of the audit’s release, it seems to have had one effect. Spence appears set on shooting the messenger.

Media visiting the Attawapiskat reserve in northern Ontario were refused entry to the community and threatened with arrest by band police.

Jennifer Tryon, Global National's senior investigative correspondent, reported that her crew was asked to leave shortly after arriving Tuesday afternoon.

She said:

[Acting chief Christine Kataquapit] said, “The chief has asked you to leave the community; for all media to leave the community.” And we sort of looked at each other and we realized that it actually wasn't a joke, and they weren't going to allow anyone to speak to the media here.

Meantime on Victoria Island, a small patch of land on the Ottawa River where Spence has set up an encampment during her hunger strike, a Toronto Star reporter was evicted by a group of men acting as security.

One of the men hinted that media coverage about the Attawapiskat financial audit was behind the media ban.

It is a strange turn of events considering how this all began. Chief Theresa Spence, remember, decided to hold a hunger strike. No one asked her to.

The media covered it because it underlined the stark desperation felt by the Attawapiskat community, the dire need for a resolution that Spence felt could only be achieved by meeting with the prime minister.

[ Related: Idle No More spokesperson calls leak of Attawapiskat audit ‘political’ ]

She coveted the spotlight. She called for the media’s attention, and she relied on it to spread her message. Because, guess what? You can righteously starve yourself all you want but unless people know about it, it’s just a bad diet.

If a chief starves in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, she doesn’t get a meeting with Harper.

Spence has charged that the audit is wrong and that it is being unfairly represented by the media. Aggressive radio silence does nothing to clear this mess up.