Today I am fasting in solidarity with Theresa Spence.
I am a settler and the descendent of settlers who first came to Turtle Island from Europe in the early and mid-twentieth century but I know that my liberation is tied to the liberation of the First Nations people. As such, Spence’s hunger strike holds out the possibility of life and freedom to me and other settlers even though the explicit focus of her strike is the life and freedom of First Nations people.
How can this be?
In the context of colonialism and oppression, all parties are dehumanized. The colonizer (the oppressor) is dehumanized because he or she lives a life stained with the blood of others, benefits from goods stolen from others, and experiences privileges that are premised upon the denial of the rights of others. Consequently, to live as a colonizer is, in my opinion, to live a less-than-fully-human-life. This is the case, even if a person is kind or sensitive or knowledgeable – even if a colonizer (like me) claims to care about all people equally regardless of their race or origin, that colonizer still participates within and benefits from racist systems and structures. That, as far as I can tell, is the reality of the world into which I was born. As a settler living within a nation that is premised upon theft, colonialism, and genocide, the reality of my situation is one of bondage. I am bound by a nation, a culture, a law, that are all structured in such a way as to refuse me the ability to be just or nonviolent.
Consequently, the actions of Spence and others who are proclaiming that they will be idle no more are actually actions that hold the potential to liberate me from this context which dehumanizes me.
And yet I wish to pause here – once again I discover a situation where settlers are exploiting the First Nations people. My people are those who have created this situation – my people are those who have stolen the land, resources, health, children, cultures, languages, and lives of many Onkwehonwe – yet now it is the Onkwehonwe who are acting to rectify the situation. I am a member of those who created this context of oppression and genocide and now I stand to benefit from the sacrifices made by those like Spence? Once again, it will be First Nations people who struggle and suffer and I, as a settler, will benefit from their struggle if it is successful.
How, then, can I begin to engage more directly and appropriately in a process that pursues the transformation of our context by means of a mutually liberating solidarity? It does not seem right to me that First Nations people should be the ones choosing to starve themselves to death (if need be) when they have already had so much violence imposed upon their bodies by settler society. Shouldn’t it be settlers who are now offering to starve themselves to death in solidarity with the Onkwehonwe? Isn’t it time that settlers began to pay, with their bodies, something of the price for liberation and for creating a more just way of sharing life together?
These are the questions I ask myself and I share them with you because I do not know the answers and I do not know the way forward. I have been grasping and fumbling and trying and failing to find my way.
However, today I will fast in solidarity with Spence because this request has been made and I wish to honour those who are asking it. Yet having said that, I also want to be conscious that true solidarity requires much more than symbolic actions performed sporadically. I know that my hands are not washed clean of the blood of others by engaging in this fast. Just as attending an anti-war protest does not make me a peaceful person (for I still pay taxes that are used to fund war in Afghanistan and elsewhere), so I know that this symbolic action does not decolonize me or make me less implicated in the violence of settler society. I know that much more needs to be done. I cannot forget the words of Che Guevara:
Solidarity is not a matter of wishing success to the victim of aggression, but of sharing her fate; one must accompany her to her death or to victory.
Hard words, indeed, but true. There is a long road to walk to freedom, and I cannot see well to find my way… but today I will fast and bring the name of Theresa Spence to the Creator.
I will also ask the Creator for patience when dealing with my own people. I have tried to heed the words of Taiaiake Alfred who, echoing Malcolm X, has encouraged well-meaning white folks to go back to their own people to confront the racism and violence that exists there. I have tried to do this and have had little success – I think perhaps I get angry too easily and I am unable to sway those with whom I speak. I will confess my inability to act or speak well and I will ask the Creator for guidance on this road.
Thank you for reading. Creator, may this day be good.