By Montreal Simon
(First published December 25th)
I didn’t want to blog tonight. I just wanted to enjoy Christmas.
But I couldn’t get these two contrasting images out of my mind.
Chief Theresa Spence slowly starving to death.
While Stephen Harper, with a weird look on his face, plays cribbage.
And the Idle No More movement continues to spread.
For Rome had its Nero and we have our mad emperor. And those contrasting images couldn’t be more powerful.
Lying in my dark room, I pictured the chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation lying on a pile of blankets in her teepee across from Parliament Hill, entering day 14 of her hunger strike.
Lying there, I imagined another resolve too — Prime Minister Harper’s. Telling himself: I will not meet with her. I will not cave in to her. I will not be forced to do anything.
Mr. Harper may relent, scared of the political fallout from letting this great leader die. I dearly hope he does. I want Chief Spence to eat. But I won’t soon forget this clash between these two very different kinds of resolve, one so sealed off, closed in; the other cracked wide open, a conduit for the pain of the world.
Or in Harper’s case more shameful. Or more cowardly.
In a hunger strike, most of the phases are well known. When glycogen is used up and no food is taken, the body begins consuming fat stocks. When they are gone, muscles and organ tissue are consumed to produce energy. But there is not much information about when a hunger strike begins to consume politicians.
The country is waiting to see what Stephen Harper will do about a woman who is dying to talk to him. If she does die, the prime minister will not have to ask for whom the bell tolls — and neither will anyone else.
And then I read how back in Chief Spence’s humble little community of Attawapiskat, they were doing their best to keep the spirit of Christmas alive for the children.
The Attawapiskat River is frozen; the temperature is -18 C but feels like -27. The wind is relentless; it cuts through like a knife.
But Christmas in Attawapiskat is anything but cold. People in this community don’t have much but what they do have, they share without a second thought, even with strangers.
As people from the community trooped in, children in tow, they chose what they needed. Shoes, clothes and toys, in that order, went quickly. If two people wanted the same thing — it didn’t happen often — they quickly and quietly discussed who needed it more and resolved the conundrum.
“It is like this in daily life, too, every day,” Vezina said. “When you don’t have much, you realize you don’t need much.”
And I was moved beyond words, for the justice of the cause of the Idle No More movement never seemed so obvious. My Christmas never seemed so privileged. Or this so true.
Chief Spence’s hunger is not just speaking to Mr. Harper. It is also speaking to all of us, telling us that the time for bitching and moaning is over. Now is the time to act, to stand strong and unbending for the people, places and principles that we love.
You know it’s funny eh? Stephen Harper calls himself a Christian. But I’m a better Christian than he is, for I would never let even my worst enemy starve, because I was too proud to talk to him. And I’m an atheist.
So I can’t offer Chief Spence a prayer. But I was once a choir boy, believe it or not.
So in the bleak midwinter of Harperland I could sing this old song for her…
What can I give Him,/ Poor as I am?/ If I were a shepherd/ I would bring a lamb,/ If I were a wise man/ I would do my part,/ Yet what I can I give Him,/ Give my heart.
And give her, and her people, my heart. And my undying support.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays. Justice for all Canadians.
Idle no more . . .