Stephen Harper is deeply afraid of Chief Spence - and he should be. He is not, of course, afraid of her as a woman and a mother. Rather, he is afraid of what she represents in the struggle of the Indigenous people for treaty justice. You see, the treaties that the crown signed with native people in this country demonstrate an implicit (and sometimes explicit) recognition that the Indigenous people were caretakers of the land and water in large parts of the country. And besides the fact that the constitution of this country recognized the natives as fundamental stakeholders in the founding of the nation, there is a moral recognition that they are genuine protectors of the fragile ecosystems around the country. Failure to listen to the Indigenous voices on environmental issues spells inevitable disaster for our future.
Of course, successive governments have done a remarkable job at marginalizing native people. Federal governments have continually failed to live up to their treaty obligations, they have made it nearly impossible for native peoples to live in traditional ways but they have also held them back from benefiting from the exploitation of their treaty lands. Couple this with the government's effort to take away the native people's language, family structure, and culture, our governments have kept native people living in horrible poverty, and robbed them of the kinds of educational and healthcare tools that would allow them to genuinely improve their situation. Perhaps the worst part of this process of marginalization has been the way that it has fed into shocking racism on the part of many Canadians against First Nations peoples. This mechanism has long been a primary function of imperialism. If you marginalize a group effectively, keeping them poor and uneducated, the average, white, ill-informed colonizer will see them has somehow responsible for their own degradation. This was a fundamental organizational operaton of Apartheid and was also central to how the slaves were treated in the US. And it is a strategy that has been remarkably effective in Canada where most people are shockingly ill-informed not only about the historically despicable treatment of Indigenous people but are amazingly misinformed about the state of Native people today. If you don't believe it find your way to a story about Idle no More or Chief Spence on the Huffington Post and read the comments. This is, generally speaking, a center-left news site and yet the comments on Native issues reflect blatant racism and a remarkable degree of ignorance. It seems that most Canadians really think that Native people are inherently shiftless and lazy, living high off the hog on government handouts while their chiefs drive around in chauffer-driven limos.
All of this brings us to the reasons that Harper is afraid of Chief Spence. He is afraid because he knows that not only are her actions threatening to demonstrate his lack of humanity, but her efforts (and the efforts of Idle no More in general) could begin the process of public education not only about how natives are being treated in general but how his environmental policies are raping the land and threatening the waters.
Overcoming the long-term effects of colonialism and imperialism is a very slow process. There are still many people in the States, for example, who think that African-Americans are lazy and their relative poverty demonstrates a lack of ambition and commitment. And it seems that in Canada bigotry against Native People has become one of the last socially acceptable kinds of racism. And men like Harper rely on that racism to continue his environmentally destructive policies. The Indigenous people are just standing in the way of his agenda of destruction and the last thing he wants is for people to begin to listen to them and really look at what is going on.