Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is calling on fellow chiefs to continue advancing the Idle No More movement.
Ms. Spence joined an Idle No More panel discussion on Friday, saying by video link the movement cannot fade now that the liquid-diet fast she undertook to draw attention to native issues has ended.
“I’m asking everyone to encourage all the chiefs to work with the grassroots people,” Ms. Spence said from Attawapiskat, Ont., after earlier lamenting: “Sometimes I feel it’s the leadership not fighting hard enough, because they’re afraid to.”
It was Ms. Spence’s first public speech since she returned home from her protest in Ottawa, organizers and Attawapiskat staff said. Ms. Spence told the crowd she’s still “suffering from the impact” of her fast.
“I’m getting better,” she said, thanking those who supported her. Treaty relationships are still broken and first nations people remain second-class citizens as “the white man law is always overstepping our own laws,” she told the crowd. “This is why we have to tell the government we’re not going to take this no more.”
Idle No More was launched by four women in Saskatoon last November, but Ms. Spence’s protest soon made her the reluctant face of the movement to push first nations rights into the spotlight.
Speakers at the University of Alberta seminar discussed how to keep the movement from fading. More ground-level organization is needed for it to be politically effective, said Wab Kinew, director of indigenous inclusion at the University of Winnipeg. “We have the potential for a very strong ground game,” he said, adding that the movement thrust first nations issues “into the national collective consciousness.”
“And what do we do with that? Do we say, ‘Oh well, we’ll try again next time?’ … No, we’ve come too far to turn back now,” he said.
Tanya Kappo, an early supporter of Idle No More, said the movement is in a “transition,” with supporters sorting out the next step. “It’s still all relevant, and people are still waiting and wanting something different,” Ms. Kappo said.
The movement has been overwhelming, said Cecil Nepoose, a panelist who is an elder of the Samson Cree in Alberta. “[Ms. Spence] is leading the process, and the council and the chiefs are caught in the middle. They don’t have the understanding if they haven’t had the grassroots experience,” he said.
Heather Nooski, 31, of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in B.C., was among the 300 people at the seminar. She called Ms. Spence a role model, and didn’t expect Idle No More to fade away. “It’s not going to stop. It won’t,” she said.