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Idle No More: Speaking her mind by closing her mouth
Her years as a councillor with the Tk’emlups Indian Band taught Evelyn Camille the rule of politics.
However, having left the band’s council, the 73-year-old residential-school survivor said she can now speak her mind.
Camille hopes her actions speak louder than her words as she continues a fast in support of Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence, now in her 23rd day of a hunger strike while seeking a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Attawapiskat, located a two-hour plane ride north of Timmins, Ont., made headlines in October 2011, when a state of emergency was declared due to extreme cold, inadequate housing and the remains of a 2009 sewage spill that had not been cleaned up.
The only elementary school had been closed in 2000.
Spence, who was also chief at the time of the crisis, began her protest not only to draw attention to her own people, but to that of all First Nations in Canada and the way they have been treated by the federal government, according to a press release sent out by Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
“I really want to support Chief Spence,” Camille said before entering the sweat lodge next to her home on Wednesday, Jan. 2.
She received permission from her spiritual advisor within the band, but noted TIB Chief Shane Gottfriedson has not spoken to her about her plans.
Camille said she was disappointed Gottfriedson has not shown support for the Idle No More protests that have accompanied Spence’s actions.
“I don’t support him in that area at all,” she said of the chief’s decision to also publicly ask Spence to stop her protest. “But, my hands are free and I can speak my mind.”
Camille said when the United Nations issued a report earlier this year condemning Canada for its human-rights record with aboriginal peoples, she thought it might spark more concern at the federal level than it did.
The United Nations report noted “by every measure, be it respect for treaty and land rights, levels of poverty, average life spans, violence against women and girls, dramatically disproportionate levels of arrest and incarceration or access to government services such as housing, health care, education, water and child protection, indigenous peoples across Canada continue to face a grave human-rights crisis.”
Confronting such issues is not new for Camille. She spent a decade living in the Kamloops Residential School, having been relocated to it when she was six years old.
Despite adding First Nations studies to school curriculum and engaging in the long process of addressing the residential-school abuses, Camille sees many of the problems her ancestors faced continuing today, noting the original federal Indian Act “really defined us as if we weren’t people and we’re still gong through that today.
“Why is it still happening today?”
Although the ceremonies involved in fasting within her lodge are private, Camille wants the public to know what she is doing.
Her plans are different from those of Spence, who is consuming fluids and fish broth.
Camille will go without food or water for four days, then take clear fluids on the fifth day, with the goal of repeating the process.
She is not sure how long she can continue: “Like you said, I’m no spring chicken, although I feel like I’m 39.”
Camille’s family is supportive — but worried — as she starts her fast. She is not new to the process, however, as she enters her lodge for shorter fasts two or three times a year.
She plans to open her house to anyone who wants to come and support her and is hoping to see young people in particular do so.