Open Letter to PM Harper Urging A Meeting with Chief Spence

January 4, 2013

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2


Open Letter Urging a Meeting with Chief Theresa Spence

Dear Prime Minister:

Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) urges you to meet immediately with Chief Theresa Spence who today begins the 24th day of her hunger strike. On behalf of the 300 writers, editors and scholars who belong to our organization, as well as dozens of other artists, we ask you to take swift and unequivocal action.

We oppose the ways in which Omnibus Bill C-45 absolves the federal government of its former responsibilities to consult with First Nations over land and water rights within reserve lands. We also oppose Bill C-45’s erasure of Indigenous rights formerly protected by treaty. These changes to old treaty laws affect everything from Indigenous ownership of reserve lands to education to safe drinking water and open the way to further erosion of First Nations cultures and deeper impoverishment of peoples living on reserves. CWILA repudiates your government’s apparent deference to corporate interests in mining, logging and oil extraction over Aboriginal rights.

As the Idle No More movement picks up momentum and puts Canada’s relations with First Nations in the international spotlight, we request that you do the honourable thing and meet with Chief Spence. She will not back down, and it is your duty as the elected leader of the government of Canada to meet with her in a spirit of openness and good faith to renegotiate this legislation and to renew the federal commitment to the protection of Indigenous rights.

CWILA stands in fervent support of First Nations’ constitutionally protected rights to their lands and waters. We are steadfast in our solidarity with Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon, the founders of Idle No More, and with other Indigenous women who have called upon us to support them in this struggle.

We urge you in the strongest terms to meet with Chief Theresa Spence as soon as possible.


Maleea Acker, Poet, Enviromental Journalist, Victoria, BC

Caroline Adderson, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Gay Allison, poet, editor, Stratford, ON

Naomi Angel, Doctoral Candidate, New York University, Toronto, ON

Luanne Armstrong, Writer, Kuskanook, BC

Janet Barkhouse, Writer, Mahone Bay, NS

derek beaulieu, Calgary, AB

Sheri Benning, Saskatchewan & Glasgow, Scotland

Linda Besner, Writer, Toronto, ON

Yvonne Blomer, poet and Artistic Director of Planet Earth Poetry, Victoria BC

Christian Bok, Poet, Associate Professor (University of Calgary), Calgary, AB

Stephanie Bolster, Associate Professor, Concordia University, Pointe-Claire, QC

Kate Braid, Poet, Vancouver, BC

Suzanne Buffam, Writer, Lecturer, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Melissa Bull, Writer, Editor, Translator, Montreal, QC

Alice Burdick, Poet, Mahone Bay, NS

Hannah Calder, Vernon, BC

Sandra Campbell, Writer, Toronto, ON

Mary Chapman, UBC Professor, Vancouver, BC

Moe Clark, Multi-disciplinary Artist and Poet, Montreal, QC

Stephen Collis, Poet, SFU Professor, Vancouver, BC

Cris Costa, Writer, Toronto, ON

Brad Cran, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Linda Crosfield, Poet, Castlegar, BC

Lorna Crozier, Writer, Distinguished Professor, UVIC, Saanich, BC

Melissa Dalgleish, PhD candidate (ABD), York University, Toronto, ON

Krissy Darch, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Dina Del Bucchia, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Charles Demers, Writer/Performer, Vancouver, BC

Sadiqa de Meijer, Writer, Kingston, ON

Dr. Jennifer Delisle, Edmonton, AB

Carmen Derkson, Writer, Instructor, Calgary, AB

JoAnn Dionne, Writer/Editor/Teacher/Student, Victoria, BC

Gillian Dunks, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Daniela Elza, Writer/Poet, Vancouver, BC

Mona Fertig, Writer and Editor, Saltspring Island

Kathy Figueroa, Poet, Freelance Writer, Photographer, Purveyor of Fine Flowers, Bancroft, ON

Triny Finlay, Poet, Assistant Professor, University of New Brunswick, NB

Sheree Fitch, Writer, River John, NS

Cynthia Flood, Writer, Vancouver BC

Chris Fox, Editor/Instructor, Victoria BC

Cynthia French, Writer, Newburne, NS

Steven Galloway, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Pam Galloway, Poet and Speech-Language Pathologist, Vancouver BC

Cynara Geissler, Book Publicist, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Terry Gibson, Vancouver, BC

Susan Gillis, Writer and Teacher, Montreal, Quebec

Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Writer, Professor, Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, NS

Susan Glickman, Toronto, ON

Alisa Gordaneer, Poet, Victoria, BC

Hiromi Goto, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Nora Gould, Poet, Rancher, Consort, AB

Sue Goyette, Poet, Halifax, NS

Catherine Graham, Poet, Toronto, ON

Laurie D Graham, Writer, Toronto, ON

Elizabeth Greene, Poet, Kingston, ON

Mark Grenon, Writer, Teacher, Montreal, QC

Adrienne Gruber, Poet, Vancouver, BC

Helen Guri, Poet, Toronto, ON

Donna H Hagerman, Visual Arts Programmer, Vancouver, BC

Heather Haley, Poet, Artistic Director of Visible Verse Festival, Vancouver, BC

Brecken Hancock, Poet, Ottawa, ON

Warren Heiti, Teaching Fellow, Halifax, NS

Yvonne Hertzberger, Author, Stratford, ON

Miranda Hill, Writer, Hamilton, ON

Jane Hutton, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Maureen Hynes, Retired Professor, Toronto, ON

Penny Isabel, Burnaby, BC

Danielle Janess, Writer/Communications Professional, Victoria, BC

Gillian Jerome, Poet, UBC Lecturer, Vancouver, BC

Heather Jessup, Author and Instructor, Halifax NS

Fazeela Jiwa, Writer, Educator, Ottawa, ON

Elena Johnson, Writer and Translator, Vancouver, BC

Michael Johnson, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Maia Joseph, UBC Lecturer, Vancouver, BC

Penn Kemp, London, ON

Julie Keon, Writer, Cobden, ON

Stephanie Keon, Writer, Teacher, Eganville, ON

Alexis Kienlen, Poet and Journalist, Edmonton, AB

Elee Kraljii Gardiner, Poet, Vancouver, BC

Kathryn Kuitenbrower, Writer, Toronto, ON

Sonnet L’Abbé, Lecturer, University of BC – Okanagan, Kelowna, BC

Danielle LaFrance, Poet, Information Scientist, Vancouver, BC

Anita Lahey, Writer, Editor, Toronto, ON

Larissa Lai, Writer, UBC Professor, Vancouver, BC

Fiona Tinwei Lam, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Kateri Lanthier, Poet/Writer, Toronto, ON

Ross Leckie, Poet, Professor, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB

Christine Leclerc, Poet, Vancouver, BC

Mandy Len, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Alex Leslie, Writer, Richmond, BC

Savanna Scott Leslie, Copy Editor, Toronto, ON

Tim Lilburn, Poet, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC

Jennifer LoveGrove, Writer, Toronto and Haliburton, ON

Heather Low, Vancouver, BC

Cathy MacDonald-Zytveld, writer, host of the Dusty Owl Reading Series, Ottawa, ON

Shannon Maguire, Writer, Guelph, ON

Carin Makuz, Writer, Whitby, ON

Nico Mara-McKay, Writer, Toronto, ON

Allison Marion, Winnipeg, MB

Daphne Marlatt, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Garth Martens, Poet, Victoria, BC

Lisa Martin-DeMoor, Writer, Edmonton, AB

Kathleen McConnell, Chair of English Dept., Saint Thomas University, Fredericton, NB

Kevin McNeilly, Poet, UBC Professor, Vancouver BC

Emily McGiffin, Writer and Consultant, Smithers, BC

rob mclennan, writer / editor / publisher, Ottawa, ON

Steve McOrmond, Poet, Toronto, ON

Dr. Lorrie Miller, Vancouver, BC

Kathryn Mockler, Writer, Toronto, ON

Vanessa Moeller, Arts Administrator, Fredericton, NB

Laura Moss, UBC Professor, Vancouver, BC

Evan Munday, Book Publicist, Children’s Author, Toronto, ON

Jane Munro, Poet, Vancouver BC

Sachiko Murakami, Writer and Editor, Toronto, ON

George Murray, Poet, St. John’s, NL

Emily Nilsen, poet, Nelson BC

Emilia Nielsen, Poet & PhD Candidate UBC, Vancouver BC

Chelsea Novak, Freelance Writer, Vancouver, BC

Jasmina Odor, Writer, Concordia University College of Alberta instructor, Edmonton, AB

Susan Olding, Writer and Teacher, Kingston, ON

Pamela Oliva, Saskatoon, SK

Desirée Ossandon, Writer, Artist, CEO & Editor-in-Chief, Canada Arts Connect, ON

Abby Paige, Writer and Actor, Ottawa, ON

Jocelyn Parr, Writer, Dawson College Faculty, Montreal, Quebec

shauna paull, Vancouver, BC

A.S. Penne, Writer, Sechelt, BC

Alison Pick, Writer, Toronto, ON

Alex Pierce, Writer, Sable River, NS

Pearl Pirie, Writer, Ottawa, ON

Pamela Porter, Poet, novelist, Governor General’s Award (2005), North Saanich, BC

Robert Porter, Farm manager, Mihceti Farms, North Saanich, BC

Kate Pullinger, Writer, Professor, London, England

Meredith Quartermain, Writer, Vancouver, BC

a.rawlings, Poet, Performer, Reykjavik, Iceland

DC Reid, Novelist, Poet, Victoria, BC

Nikki Reimer, Poet, Calgary, AB

Shane Rhodes, Writer, Ottawa, ON

Clelie Rich, Editor, Vancouver, BC

Damien Rogers, Poet, Creative Director of Poetry in Voice, Toronto, ON

Amelia Schonbek, Journalist, Montreal, QC / New York

Nikki Scott

Ann Scowcroft, Writer & technical consultant, UNHCR, Ayer’s Cliff, QC

Karis Shearer, UBC-Okanagan Assistant Professor, Kelowna, BC

Nikki Sheppy, Writer, Calgary, AB

Ahava Shira, Poet and Creative Mentor, Centre for Loving Inquiry, Salt Spring Island, BC

Sandy Shreve, Writer, Pender Island, BC

Melanie Siebert, Poet, UVic Lecturer, Victoria, BC

Bren Simmers, Poet, Vancouver, BC

Anne Simpson, Poet, Novelist, Essayist, NS

Sue Sinclair, Poet and CWILA critic-in-residence for 2013, Montreal, QC

Carolyn Smart, Poet, Sydenham, ON

Wayne Soroka, Burnaby, BC

Susan Steudel, Writer/Official Court Reporter, Vancouver, BC

Christina Sylka, Vancouver, BC

Katja Thieme, Lecturer, Vancouver, BC

Rachel Thompson, Vancouver, BC

Erika Thorkelson

Nick Thran, Poet, Montreal, QC

Matthew Tierney, Writer, Toronto, ON

Leslie Timmins Writer, Vancouver, BC

Bibiana Tomasic, Poet, Consultant, New Westminter, BC
Deborah Torkko, University-College Professor, Vancouver Island University, Victoria, BC

Anne-Marie Turza, Kingston, ON

Natalie Zina Walschots, Toronto, ON

Hal Wake, Artistic Director of the Vancouver Writer’s Festival, Vancouver, BC

Bernadette Wagner, Writer, Regina. SK

Sheryda Warrener, Poet, Vancouver, BC

Gillian Wigmore, Writer, Library Technician, Prince George, BC

Alana Wilcox, Editor, Toronto, ON

Fred Wah, Poet, Vancouver and Riondel, BC

Rita Wong, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Elaine Woo, Writer, Vancouver, BC

Erin Wunker, Academic, Halifax, NS

Jennifer Zilm, Poet, PhD Candidate, McMaster University

Daniel Zomparelli, Poet, Publisher, Vancouver, BC

Jan Zwicky, Poet, BC


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10 Responses to Open Letter to PM Harper Urging A Meeting with Chief Spence

  1. Billstoker44 says:

    Chief Spence is the chief of one small reserve in northern Ontario, not the chief of the Assembly of Firsdt Nations.  If there is to be negotiation, it should happen at that level.  Second point is the Prime Minister is right not to respond to an ultimatum – “meet with me or I’ll die”.  Chief Spence’s advisers are not giving her the room to end her hunger strike, meet with the Aboriginal Affairs Minister and BEGIN a conversation.  It appears they want a martyr and a 49-year old woman is going to be sacrificed.  Where’s the fairness in that?  Why does your group support this tactic?

    • Cran says:

      When a Prime Minster uses our democratic processes to undermine our democracy, silence our scientists, and limit parliamentary and public discourse, then action outside the status quo is both acceptable and commendable . Harper doesn’t listen to Canadians, most of whom he has disdain for. Thankfully people in this country (and around the world) are listening to Chief Spence, while Harper remains deaf to opinions other than his own.

      It is ridiculous and insulting that you are defending Harper and advocating for a return to status quo mediation when it is Harper who has desecrated the democratic processes that would have made such a solution possible. Rather than criticizing Chief Spence  you should consider that Harper’s political manoeuvring has hurt Canada and all Canadians, including yourself. 

      • Billstoker44 says:

        Cran, please understand that I am NOT defending Harper, nor am I defending Ma. Spence.  She does not have the right to speak for the AFN and Harper should not give in to her ultimatum.  As for the “ridiculous and insulting” comment, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised but I had expected more from such an august body as the CWILA.  Perhaps I was wrong to expect a higher level of discourse.  Or perhaps you don’t speak for the CWILA just as Ms. Spence does not speak for the AFN.  Thank you and good night.

        • JD says:

          Chief Spence is not asking for a private meeting, but one that includes other Aboriginal leaders.
          Given the living conditions on her reserve, and the sense of crisis in her community following Bill C-45, no wonder she feels that she must resort to extreme tactics in order to be heard. This is more complex than a simple “ultimatum.” Spence is responding to the threat to the well-being of her people with an action that is, to her, proportionate. Rather than be offended by the severity of her protest we should recognize it as a indicator of the magnitude of these issues.
          I find it troubling that you would deny her her own agency and will by giving the impression that she is the mere pawn of her advisors.

    • Lemonhound says:

       Wow, that’s shockingly sexist and ignorant really. Too bad for you.

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  3. Lemonhound says:

    Sina! add me!

    • Hi all!

      Why, why, WHY have I not heard of CWILA before today?!?  I’ve just tried signing up and paying my dues but the form didn’t load.  Please add me to everything this org does!

      And thanks, Penn, for posting the letter on Facebook!

      Racism is an ugly thing and I have seen far too much of it leaking out in the comments everywhere online.  I’ve also learned a lot myself by reading First Nations content and reportage and while I may not personally be willing to die from self-immolation, I am coming to understand First Nations’ culture of medicine through pain.

      Chief Spence has done a remarkable thing, standing up not only for her people, the people of Attawapiskat, but also for disenfranchised First Nations people across the country, people whose mostly male leadership has abandoned because of governance imposed upon them through the Indian Act.  She will succeed not because she threatens to die, but because she speaks truth and has the support of Idle No More.

      We are all Treaty People, yes, and we of Settler society, who call ourselves allies, must take our responsibility to the Treaties much more seriously than we have.


  4. Dorothy Field says:

    I am in total agreement with Chief Spence. The government of Canada and this particular government in particular has ignored First Nations issues for far too long. When Mr. Harper made his residential school apology, we hoped he would act on his promise of improved relations. He has not done so. Chief Spence’s position is a measure of how desperate First Nations are. I urge Mr. Harper to meet with Chief Spence as soon as possible.

  5. Janet Vickers says:

    Thank you for this letter.  I applaud this group for taking a stand. I see Chief Theresa Spence as one who asked herself what she was willing to give in the fight for justice, and she chooses to give her life.  This is far more ethical than going to war and sacrificing others’ lives in a  bid for power where justice gets lost in further wars. 

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