Chief Theresa Spence is a very ordinary person. And for that very reason, she and her ongoing act of self-sacrifice have been the target of fellow citizens who imagine she is getting above herself.
Andrew Coyne’s customary suaveness departed from him today. In a column that could have been written by Ezra Levant, he referred to Chief Spence thus:
A flair for self-promotion and the credulousness of the Canadian media may have landed her on the front pages for a few weeks; she may imagine herself, as such, to be in a position to dictate terms to the Queen, the Governor General and the prime minister, not to mention her fellow chiefs (who were instructed not to attend in her absence).
But the mundane reality, with the continuing revelations of just how thoroughly she has mismanaged her tiny hamlet, is that her career in the race hustling business is very nearly at an end. No one person has done more to damage the native cause with the general public, and no native leader who hopes to enlist the public’s support will want to have much to do with her.
The nerve of this uppity Injun attempting to dictate terms to anyone. Just who does this woman think she is?
The general public, as it happens, has never had much sympathy for the First Nations. We’re a racist, settler country, and it’s high time we stood up and faced that fact, and dealt with it. How anyone can read the comments threads appended to online media stories about Chief Spence and Idle No More and not smell the magnolias is beyond me. And the dreary parade of white finger-waving pundits in the national media is part of the problem. They give respectable cover to the shrieking bigots in our midst.
Spence is not “discredited” by bad bookkeeping, most of which happened before she was chief, an inconvenient truth that the punditocracy keeps meticulously eliding from the narrative. She is not “discredited” because her hunger strike includes fish broth—she’s still only taking in 200-300 calories a day, something the self-appointed medical experts might be advised to try for a while before beaking off. And she is not “discredited” because the Attawapiskat Council, looking around for a co-manager on the insistence of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, hired her partner Clayton Kennedy. Of course, none of the following is relevant, as far as the commentators looking down their noses at Chief Spence are concerned:
[Kennedy] left Attawapiskat in 2004. But in July 2009, the band was looking for a new co-manager. The job was advertised in newspapers in the Ontario communities of Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Timmins, according to a document on the band’s website.
The band says it received five applications. Kennedy’s company was shortlisted, but council ultimately gave the job to another big accounting firm, BDO Dunwoody. That deal lasted less than a year. Under a tight, Aboriginal Affairs-imposed deadline to find a new co-manager, the band council once again looked to Kennedy. He returned to work in Attawapiskat in July 2010.
The band issued a news release in late 2011 saying Spence was not in any of the meetings where council talked about bringing Kennedy back to Attawapiskat.
Kennedy said the audit proves things improved after Spence became chief on Aug. 27, 2010.
“Prior to Theresa coming on as chief, there were problems,” said Kennedy. “Hence that is why I was brought in by council, with the full knowledge of Aboriginal Affairs, to get things turned around and for the most part I did get them turned around.”
The audit’s examination of 400 Aboriginal Affairs transactions supports his assertion. Between 2009 and 2011, the audit found 31 transactions lacked supporting documentation. Between 2005 and 2009, the audit found 214 transactions lacked all supporting documentation.
“There was a lack of oversight, there was a lack of controls,” said Kennedy. “It was all relatively young finance staff.”
Perhaps, however, it is not Coyne’s spluttering rage and adroit avoidance of exculpatory facts, but a curious column by Maclean’s columnist Colby Cosh that really explains what’s going on here. Apparently Spence is not Mohandas K. Gandhi. A ripe sample:
Gandhi was respected as a writer and speaker. He was witty; history leaves hardly any record of a journalist or photographer who left his presence uncharmed. Many of the most memorable hunger strikers have been poets or thinkers: Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork, was a celebrated playwright whose Ethics of Revolt and Principles of Freedom still bear reading, and even poor Bobby Sands was a pretty good jailhouse polemicist for the Republican press. A hunger strike involves establishing a personal, intimate relationship with one’s audience, as a writer does. You must create the conviction that you are dying for clear ideas that you can elucidate well; it would help if you had already achieved recognition as an intellectual leader.
It would, after all, be an absurdity to run the gauntlet of hunger for a mere feeling, or over a vague sense of offendedness, or in the spirit of generalized sympathy with the downtrodden, or for anything that was not remorselessly logical. Again: if you merely mean to die to show off your deep sentiments, that is no more than a thousand messed-up teenagers do every year.
Extraordinary things, we are being instructed, may only be done by extraordinary people. Spence is frumpy, not particularly witty or intellectual, somewhat inconsistent as things change around her by the day, perhaps untutored in Constitutional matters, maybe above her level of competence as a manager. And after days of hateful mockery, she doesn’t want to talk to the jeering media any more—how self-indulgent of her. How dare she commit an act of self-abnegation? That’s for her more presentable betters.
But if we really believe that—if we truly want to establish qualifications to determine who should, and who should not, undertake acts of self-sacrifice on behalf of the greater good—then humanity is lost. It is precisely her ordinariness that makes Chief Theresa Spence extraordinary. By her actions she affirms that every one of us, whatever our personal shortcomings, has the capacity of spirit to stand up for what is right, regardless of personal risk. She has, by example, allowed us all to hope. For that reason alone we should freely give her the tremendous credit she is due, and put to shame her cynical detractors.